THE END OF THE INNOCENCE


BY: ALEX QUEIROLO AND ERIKA ROTTLER



AUTHOR'S NOTE:
This story takes about three months after "I Will Survive" and "That Was the Day". In this time-line, everything up until "Passion" occured but that is where they split. For the important back story, please read "I Will Survive"

CONTENT WARNING:
We need to be up-front about this; this piece is NOT meant for minors to read. It tells of graphic violent events and speaks rather frankly of sexual situations. However, there is no actual sex involved in this piece. It is rather unflinching and at points crude. We hope you will agree however that nothing is out of place. Again, this story contains violence, intense language, extreme angst and rather explicit discussions of sexual situations.

DISCLAIMER:
The only character in this piece that belongs to us is Asher. All of the others belong to Joss "Da Man" Whedon and Co. Them are gods..we are students. No bad is meant by this




He groaned and tried to lift it up and into the air. With a sigh of defeat, he allowed it to drop back to the black asphalt of the parking lot with a loud thudding noise. "It's too heavy," he whimpered, turning to glare at Cordelia C hase. Growling he asked, "What the hell did you pack? Your whole damn room?"

"Funny, Xander," Cordelia replied with a grin that was entirely too large. She nodded her head towards Buffy and said with a smirk,"Buffy understands." She turned to look at the blonde haired Slayer for back-up. Buffy just sighed and rolled her eyes. Cros sing over to Xander, she reached down and with a grunt tossed the overstuffed duffle into the beige van parked in the faculty lot of Sunnydale High.

"We're only going for three days," Xander insisted. "Right, Buff?"

"Sorry, Xand..us girls gotta pack more than just boxers and socks," Buffy replied with a grin as she single-handidly finished loading the van.

"Yeah, gang up on me," Xander grumbled. "Hey Will, you're with me, right?"

"All that matters is that you believe that," Willow replied, turning back to some coversation that she was having with Oz.

"Fine, I see how it is. Just no one better look at me if we fall over a bridge and sink to the bottom of a river because Cordelia's luggage has made us heavier than the whole Ringling Brothers circus." Xander shot back. Buffy chuckled and rolled her eyes.

"We're not going over any bridges, Xander." Giles said as he and Jenny Calendar walked past him and the other teens. They seemed to both be concentrating on a piece of paper that had a lot of scribbles on it. Presumably directions to White Wolf Creek.

"Giles," Xander groaned. Again Buffy chuckled.

"Hey Cordelia!" A shrill called out from the entrance gate to the parking lot. The teens all looked up to see Harmony Cates and three of her friends moving towards them. Cordelia smiled weakly at her friend. "Why don't you come with us and lose the social reject project?"

Cordelia opened her mouth to reply and then thought better of it. "We'll see you there, Harmony." She finally said. Harmony snickered and then snapped her fingers and started towards the second beige van.

A low growling noise brought their attention to the young boy in back who was trudging Harmony's suitcase along and grunting. He looked up at Xander, "Please..please..I'm begging you...are you sure you guys don't have room for one more?"

Xander grinned, "Sorry man. I suggest using the Walkman and playing heavy metal. Trust me..it works."

Jonathon sighed and very dejectedly moved after Harmony. Buffy watched him sympathetically and then with a slight shake of her head, she turned away and looked at Xander. Reaching out, she grabbed his arm and pulled him over to the side of the van.

"Hey, I got something for you," she said to him, a small almost shy smile on her face.

"Oh yeah?" Xander asked, perking up.

"Down boy," Buffy grinned. "It's nothing major. Just something to help you feel like a man." She winced at her own choice of words. "It sounded better in my..oh here...just take it!" She thrust out her hand and opened her palm to reveal her gift.

"Wow," he whistled. "Cool." He leaned forward and removed a knife from her palm. Turning it over in his hands, he grinned at the design of it. It was about three to four inches in length with a slopping tip. The entire stainless steel blade folded back i nto an aged oak handle. It wasn't a hunting knife but it was perfect for camping purposes.

"My dad gave it to me when I saw him last weekend. Not really my style but I thought maybe you'd jam on it," Buffy said by way of explanation.

"Thanks Buffster," Xander grinned, leaning forward to give her a quick hug.

"Alright kids, lock and load." Jenny Calendar called out, walking towards them. She was holding a blue clip-board in her right hand and a plastic bottle of Pepsi in the other. "It's time to hit the road."

The kids let out a collective cheer. Buffy looked up at Xander, gave him a quick peck on the cheek and then broke away from him and rushed towards the passenger door. "Shot-gun."

"No fair, Slayer!" Xander cried out, looking to the others for help. "Well..it's not fair.."

Cordelia sighed loudly and then very gently slapped Xander on the arm, "You're sitting with me anyways, Xander." He looked at her and then noddded and grinned. Then he looked up in alarm. "What?" She asked quickly.

"Oh hey..hang a sec...there was something I wanted to give you too." Xander said with a grin. She arched an eyebrow.

"Oh yeah?"

"Uh huh. Come here." He took her by the elbow and led her a few feet away from the van. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a silver chain with a small silver ring on it. "This..is for you. That is..I got it..or I'm giving it..or something...dammmit C ordelia...it's yours."

She smiled and took the necklace from him, moving the ring up on the chain so that she could examine it. "Wow..it's incredible." She whispered. And it was. It was a solid silver band all the way around except for one part at the top where the silver split and then rejoined. She put it around her neck and smiled up at him again. He returned the expression and then leaned forward and kissed her. After a few moments she broke away and looked up at him. "What? You think just because you gave me a gorgeous rin g that you're entitled to smoochies?"

"Well?" he said pathetically, eyebrow arched in confusion. Then she shrugged.

"You are." Grinning she reached up and pulled his head down to her so that she could initiate the kiss.

"Come on, love-birds...we outtie." Buffy called from the van. She gave them a grin and then rolled her eyes. Looking behind her, she nodded to Oz and Willow also.

Once the group was loaded into the van, Jenny shouted across the lot to where Giles was trying to cajole Harmony and company into the other van. "We're outta here, Rupert. See ya there." She looked back at the Scooby Gang as they so called themselves. "Yo u kids ready?"

"Yup, let's get outta this hellmouth," Xander quipped from the back-seat as he belted himself in.

"Good enough," Jenny grinned, starting the ignition.

Buffy leaned across the seat, "By the way, how did you manage to get Giles to be willing to drive the dode patrol? It was hard enough just getting him to sign up to chaperone this retreat."

"Well..you convinced him to come by saying you could get in trouble...which is why his bag is loaded with every weapon known to man and I convinced him to drive that van by using a two headed nickel."

"You didn't!" Willow gasped, honestly looking shocked.

Jenny grinned again, "You never know."




"Vogue or Allure?" Willow asked, holding up two magazines. Cordelia frowned for a moment and then took the Allure. Settling back against the seat, she opened it and began to casually leaf through it. Xander chuckled and then made a l oud sighing noise and stretched out his legs. Sighing again, he dropped his head into Cordelia's lap and closed his eyes. "Nap-time."

Rolling up the magazine, Cordelia bent down next to his ear and whispered, "Of course it is." Then she shoved him off her and into the wedge between the seat and the seat-back in front of them. "Just not on me." Xander groaned and then sat up, looking at her with his saddest puppy-dog look. Finally she relented and he curled up with his head against her.

Buffy chuckled and then looked over at Willow and Oz. Her eyes narrowed when she saw the black box that Oz was playing with. "Heya, could I..uh..play that when you're done?"

He looked up at her and grinned, "Sure, Buffy."

"Cool," she chirped, leaning forward to drum her fingers over the tuning buttons of the radio. In the few short minutes that they'd been in the van so far, she'd alternated between REM and Air Supply already.

"Just relax kids, "Jenny said with a small smile. "We'll be there before you know it."





"Dammit. Dammit. Dammit! Die!" Buffy yelled as she shook the black Game-Boy back and forth.

Oz and Willow exchanged amused glances. Then with a slight chuckle, Will leaned forward and wrapped an arm over the seat and said softly, careful not to further irritate the frustra

"Touch it and die, Will." Buffy muttered, shaking it again. "Dammit, hey..you cheated!" She growled at the blinking screen. She looked up at the faces watching her. "I'm fine..really. The big slimy eye-ball dude just keeps kicking my Slayer ass and it's r eally starting to piss me off. No worries. Die bastard!" She immediately refocused on the screen.

"Wow..loony bin much?" Cordelia quipped, nudging Xander. His only response was a low-pitched snore that made her frown. She considered giving him a harder push but was interrupted by an announcement from Ms. C.

"We're here gang." Jenny said, glancing over to where Buffy was sitting. The young Slayer seemed oblivious to her words. She shook her head and then looked back at the others. "Do any of you see Rupert?"

Everyone but Buffy turned to look. Willow squinted her eyes. "I don't...wait." Craning her neck, she looked closer. "Yeah, wait..there they are." Looking back up at Jenny, Willow sighed. "Only two more things left to do before we can start setting up camp ."

"What's that?" Jenny asked.

"Wrestle the Game-Boy away from Buffy and uh..." she nodded to Xander.

"I'll take care of that, "Cordelia said with a wicked grin. Leaning down, she pressed her lips to his ear and then blew very softly. That was all it took.

Xander jumped forward, "I didn't do it!" He looked around wildly and saw everyone but Buffy watching him. And laughing at him. "That was wrong," he growled.

"Whatever. You loved it." Cordelia grinned.

"That's right, that's right....you are so going down you ugly rat thingee!" Buffy cried out, still staring at the screen with a glazed look.

Xander lifted an eyebrow. "Lookie, lookie..the Slayer is as nutty as an almond cookie."

"You just think that up?" Cordelia asked. Xander favored her with an annoyed scowled. She simply winked, "Thought so. It was kinda cute..in an adolescent kinda way."

He moved his head slightly to acknowledge her comment with a silent sarcastic nod.

"Alright kids, pile out..daylight is fading and we gotta get the tents up." Jenny said as she got out of the van. Xander was the first of the students out and he quickly jumped up and down and then turned to face the others.

"Ah..fresh air. You gotta love a school that allows a camping retreat."

"Oh yeah...fun." Cordelia groaned. The Senior/Junior weekend retreat was very much something she had mixed feelings about. She wasn't a big fan of nature but on the other hand..she was with friends.

The Junior/Senior retreat commitee had rented out all of White Wolf's camp-sites so that there were ten students at each of the well spaced sites for a total of something like one hundred and fifty students. And the surrounding area was about ten miles of forest. It was just beautiful.

Just the same, originally the gang had had no intention of participating in the retreat until Snyder had nailed them all for leaving campus and made it mandatory. Anything to mess with them. And so now their options were go and hate it or go and shove it back in Snyders' face by having a good time. The latter option seemed more preferable.

"Well, it's good to see that you're all in one piece," Giles said, coming towards them from the other van. The five members of that van were all of Cordelia's official clique and the only reason they were on the trip was that they were the planning commit ee. And the only reason they were that was because it looked good on their college applications. Well except for poor Jonathon..he actually liked camping.

"Did you have a nice trip?" Oz asked as he helped Willow pull one of the tents off of the roof of the van. Willow unsnapped a bungee cord and then giggled as it sprang away. Oz favored her with a large smile.

Giles shook his head, "Let's just..get the tents up so I can go lay down and take a long nap."

Grinning, Xander headed over to help Willow and Oz, "It's always all work and no play with you, G-Man. Where's your sense of fun? Come on..."

"My sense of fun must have dribbled out the window with the sixth continuous playing of Nine Ounce Knuckles or whatever the bloody hell that was," Giles retorted.

Both Jenny and Xander exchanged amused glances. "Nine Inch Nails, Rupert." Jenny soothed.

"Right. Yes. Um, where's Buffy?" He glanced around at the others to ensure that he hadn't missed his Slayer but sure enough, she was seemingly unaccounted for.

Willow laughed and then put a hand over her mouth to contain her chuckles. Oz pointed towards the passenger seat, "She's into some serious slayage. Beware."

Giles walked around the van and over to the passenger door. Sure enough, there she was. Focused. Determined. Into the hunt. Deadly. All the things he's ever asked of her. Of course her prey was a blinking screen. "Buffy.."

"In an minute, Giles..I'm fighting ucky skeleton boy. He's going down," she breathed quickly, her fingers continuing to punch out a frantic rythym on the Game-Boy's control panel. Her eyes remained locked on the screen so she never saw him move in for the kill and then pull the game away from her. "Hey!"

"Buffy.."

"Dammit, Giles...give it back," Buffy growled, advancing on him.

"Buffy, calm down." Giles said softly, lifting it above his head. "This is for your own good. I'm cutting you off now before you put yourself or anyone else in danger."

"The only one gonna be in danger is you..now come on..."

"No..."

"Giles..."

He shook his head.

She stared at him for a moment and then decided to change her approach. Immediately her bottom lip began to waiver. "Aw come on, please? A few more minutes can't hurt..please?"

"I'm sorry," Giles replied, passing the game to Jenny who was laughing entirely too much in Buffy's opinion.

"Don't you love me, Giles?" Buffy tried again, looking at him desperately.

He sighed, "I'll make you a deal. Help us get the tents up and I'll grant you supervised visiting rights."

She considered it and then reluctantly nodded, Grumbling, she stalked over to where Xander was standing. Jenny lifted an eyebrow at Giles and then shook her head.

"Problems, Buff?" Xander asked, handing her a long metal pole. All he knew about it was that it belonged somewhere in the framing of the tent. After that..well...he was pretty much lost. Of course Willow and Cordy weren't helping; they'd already managed t o construct the frame of theirs and they weren't giving the self proclaimed nature boy any hints. And Oz? Well on Willow's advice, he was off with Jonathon collecting wood to start the fire.

"Giles is a big meanie," Buffy grunted, slamming the pole into the ground with the force equal to that of it having been hammered in.

Xander looked up, "Right. That's where it goes." He shook his head and rested a comforting hand on her overall clad shoulder, "It'll be okay. You'll get Mr. Game-Boy back with good behavior."

"That's right, Xander..keep laughing..just remember..I know where you sleep." Buffy hissed, grabbing another pole from him and slamming it into the ground just like the first. Then she looked up at him and smiled evily. "Not that I would everrrrrr hurt yo u..that is."

"Uh huh," he nodded, "I'm believing that."





With Buffy's feverish help, they managed to finish getting the tents up well before dark fell and then they got the fire going. They acutually had to push the logs they were using to sit on back a few feet after Willow inadvertingly built something that better resembled a five star blaze than a camp-fire.

Dinner duty fell to the adults as they were the only ones who weren't complaining of chronic fatigue. What was constructed was certainly better than cafeteria food but not quite gourmet. Just the same, Xander was more than happy to finish off the extras. After a few minutes of after-dinner silence, both Giles and Jenny stood.

"We're going to take the dishes down to the creek," Jenny told them, not bothering to add that they would probably take a little walk also. It was a beautiful night for an after-dinner stroll through nature.

"You kids think you can handle it?" Giles asked, more to the outsiders to the group than to the Slayerettes.

Xander waved off the two adults, "No worries...we've got it covered. Hey Oz-man...pass the marshmallows."

Oz tipped his head in acknowledgement and then tossed the bag about five feet over the roaring fire and into Xander's hand. Immediately, Xander passed one to Cordelia who was sitting next to him, curled against him with his arm around her. She chose to fo rego the roasting of it and instead popped it into her mouth. Xander sighed and decided to give up on his attempts to teach her the ways of camping.

"Hey losers, a peace offering." Harmony chirped, crossing over to them. Not suprisingly, her group was right at her heels. Thrusting her hand out, she produced a glass dish. "Brownies. All yours. Don't break the dish." She pushed it into Xander's hand and then nodded to her friends. Immediately they turned and moved back towards the tent at the very border of the camp-site. No..they were most certainly not in danger of over-socializing.

"My new best friend," Xander called after her as he hastily ripped through the tin-foil packaging to get to the brownies.

"Oh, lucky me," Harmony shot back. Her words were followed by giggles as the girls disappeared into the tent.

Xander popped a brownie into his mouth and then passed the dish to Cordelia. "Here. Yummy." He said between a mouthful of brownie. Cordelia rolled her eyes. She eyed the dish suspiciously for a moment and then sighed and took one herself. She then placed the dish on Buffy's knees. The Slayer didn't even react.

"Buffy..food." Willow whispered. Buffy glanced down and away from the Game-Boy screen. Quickly she took two of them and jammed them into her mouth. It rather single-handedly killed the notion of being lady-like. Oz chuckled and took the dish from her so that she could return to the game that she'd stolen back from Giles' things while he and Ms.C had been making dinner.

"Okay," Willow chirped, "Truth or dare."

"Cool," Oz grinned. "Three days a month...I need a body wax."

Cordelia laughed and then narrowed her eyes and focused on the Slayer whose gaze was locked rather intently on the Final Fantasy game being played out on the game rested in her palms. "Buffy..truth or dare?"

"Truth," Buffy muttered, not looking up. "Damn bastards. Fight me...are you scared? That's right..bring it on."

"When was the last time you and Angel were..you know...together?" Cordelia questioned, knowing that it would eventually get Buffy's attention.

"Thurs..wha..what?" Buffy asked, looking up with blue eyes full of shock.

Xander started cackling but when she turned her deadly gaze on him, he lost it completely and began to laugh. A moment later, he found himself off of the log he was sitting on, rubbing his bruised bottom and glaring at the marshmallow that had blind-sided him. "Owww." And then he started laughing again. Cordelia shook her head at him and then pulled him back up.

"Truth or dare, Cordy." Buffy asked, returning her focus to the game.

Cordelia narrowed her eyes, "Dare."

A few long moments of silence passed and then Buffy finally grunted and punched the start button to pause the game. "Damn little bug things." Looking up she asked, "I'm sorry..did you say.."

"Dare." Cordelia reitterated.

"Okay. Hm...okay...kiss Xander." Buffy grinned, her mind churning.

Cordelia shrugged and leaned in towards Xander to give him a peck on the lips but Buffy quickly reached across and put a hand between them.

"Nuh uh. A real kiss, Cordy."

"You're evil."

"Turnaround is fair play." Buffy laughed. "And you said dare."

"Fine." Still glaring at the chuckling Slayer, Cordelia reached forward and grabbed the collar of Xander's flannel and pulled him to her. Not that he was resisting. Just the same, she wasn't very big on PDA's. Which of course didn't explain how explosive things almost got when their lips touched and the kiss deepened. He wrapped his arm around her and she tried to wrap her hand around his neck. Which was of course when they both lost their balance and went tumbling to the dirt.

"Woah," Oz said, "I'm thinking NC-17."

Willow giggled and reached for another brownie. She passed the plate back to Buffy who'd already consumed half of it anyways. Buffy, having returned to the game, fumbled for the brownie for a few moments and then managed to break off an edge and stuff it into her mouth. Willow began to laugh harder.

"Okay, truth or dare, Will?" Xander asked, scowling at the empty plate of brownies. He shot Buffy a look but then found that he couldn't keep a straight face without giggling like a school girl.

"Truth," Willow all but sang. She was grinning like a fool.

"Um.." Xander stared at his fingers for a minute and then laughed. Then looking back up at Willow, he narrowed his eyes and asked, "Who are you? Who are you really?"

Buffy looked up and lifted an eyebrow, "Oh that was..." then she frowned. "Hm..oh hey...what was I saying?"

Xander started to laugh. He looked up at her and tried to talk,"Oh hey..Buff...um..Buffy.." He tried to look behind her but ended up doubling over in laughter instead.

Cordelia glanced up at the shadows forming behind Buffy and a look of fear crossed over her face. But it didn't stay very long before amusement won out. Giggling almost hysterically, she turned to Buffy, "Truth or dare?"

"I already took my turn, "Buffy replied, not looking up. "Dammit, Oz..I think this thing is broken...this little dude with the horns..he's floating or something." She shook the game and then stared at it again with an annoyed expression. "Stop moving."

"Truth or dare, Buffy." Cordelia asked again, falling down beside Xander on the ground.

"Definately an..or something...uh..truth?"

"Do you like vampires?"

"There's only one I like and he doesn't move half as much as these stupid little men. Oz! What the hell is wrong with this thing? Oh my God..he's..he's..what the hell is he doing?" She turned the game sideways and then turned her head also.

"Buffy..vampires..there's..um....one..no three..no sex..d'oh..I said sex," Xander chortled, holding his sides.

"Sex? Where?" Cordelia asked. Then she looked up at Xander and they both exclaimed, "Oh shit! Vampires!" And then they began to laugh again.

Buffy leapt upwards and dropped the game to the log. She watched as the ground began to spin. "Bad guys! Bad guys! Yes!"

"Right!" Xander yelled, reaching over to grab Cordelia's hand. "We can dance to it!"

The vampires all exchanged amused glances and the largest, presumably the leader smirked when he said, "Oh this is gonna be fun. And Spike worried that six of us couldn't stir up enough trouble." Laughing, he reached towards the woozy Slayer.

Buffy took a step backwards and reached down to grab a marshmallow stick that had been charred on the end. She then proceded to jab it at the vampire in a playful but certainly un-Slayer like manner. "On guard." She cried. The vampire stared at her in sho ck and just watched as she delivered jab after jab, while continuously making silly taunts. He should have been paying more attention though because one of her playful jabs sent the stick directly into his heart. As the dust settled about her shoulders, s he stared at it almost sadly before shrugging and chirping, "Oops, my bad."

"Oh...that had to hurt," Willow observed as she started to turn.

"Not as much as you'll hurt when I break your neck," a second vampire growled, grabbing her by the throat. He pressed his teeth to her throat and growled, "You're a cute one." Willow's eyes widened as all of the humor of the situation seeped away and she realized just what intense danger she and all of her friends were in.

"Buffy!" Willow screamed towards her bouncy and still completely out of it friend.

"No Slayer to help you this time," the vamp laughed. Eyes wide in horror, she began to squirm, desperately fighting to break his hold.

And then there was no hold. Willow blinked and watched as the dust scattered into the soft breeze. Looking up she saw Angel staring back at her with concern in his eyes. "Are you alright?"

She felt quickly at her neck to ensure that no biting had taken place and then she nodded, "Fine, but Buffy needs help."

Angel glanced over to Buffy and his eyes widened in surprise as he watched the young Slayer dance around with a large red and blue throw blanket. And to make it that much worse, she was yelling "Toro, toro" at the two growling vampires that were advancing upon her.

"What the hell is wrong with her?" Angel demanded, his eyes never leaving her. She was jumping all over the place, moving as if she were attached to springs.

"The brownies were laced," Cordelia breathed as she and Xander trotted up to them.

"Pot," Oz nodded. "Wow. Sinister."

Angel gave him a look and then shook his head. "How much did she ingest? You guys are all relatively normal."

Xander made a face and then replied, "Only like most of them." Then he turned around and decked a vampire that had thought it was sneaking up on them. Reaching down, Xander grabbed a stick and slew the vamp. "Lesson number one, dumbass..in the forest...th ere is an abundance of staking material. Duh?"

Angel rolled his eyes, "Oh the fun." With a loud sigh, he moved swiftly towards where Buffy was now spinning herself in circles and chanting in strange accents much to the amusement of her two attackers.

"Buffy," Angel said sharply, grabbing her shoulder, "Get ahold of yourself."

"Angel!" Buffy chirped. "My Angel." Then she pointed at the snarling vampires. "They don't want to play with me. Make them play. Pleaseeeee."

"Buffy, snap out of it!" Angel ordered, lashing out with a kick that drove one of the vamps backwards and to the ground.

To his horror, the little Slayer then began to snap her fingers to a rythym only she could hear. Angel shook his head in disbelief and then turned around and hit her soundly across the face. Not hard enough to hurt or even bruise her but hopefully enough to ring some bells. Buffy staggered backwards and fell to her butt, a hand upon her cheek.

"Sorry," Angel shrugged as he made quick work of the remaining vamps. He immediately dropped to his knees beside her and helped her up. He placed a hand over the one of hers that was still rested on her cheek and said softly, "You need to.."

"No lectures," Buffy groaned, grabbing his arm and using it to steady her. "I had a chocolate craving and then I had the munchies. How the hell was I supposed to know?"

"Buffy?" Two voices called out in unison from about fifty feet away. Buffy looked up and groaned.

"Oh hey, just in time. You missed Spike's welcome to nature party." Buffy informed Giles and Jenny. They exchanged worried glances.

"Are you alright?" Giles asked. "For God's sake, what happened?"

"Vampires." Oz told them with a nod.

"And brownies," Buffy mumbled, taking her seat and pulling Angel down with her. Then she looked up at Giles and Jenny. "I'm fine. We're all fine. It was...an experience."

"You're sure you're alright?" Jenny asked.

"Yeah, thanks to Angel." Willow said, taking a seat next to Oz. Almost immediately an uneasy silence fell over the group.

Then Jenny smiled, "Um, I think we're tired...isn't that right, Rupert." She grinned. "Us old ones need our rest. G'night kids."

Giles made as if to protest but Jenny grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the vans. They didn't have to share but everyone pretty much assumed they would anyways. "Um, yes, well..goodnight." Giles finally stammered before disappearing.

"Well that was weird," Buffy murmured. "Them and the vampires. But it was awfully nice of Spike to send a welcoming party."

Willow giggled and pointed at her, "You should have seen yourself though, Buffy..it was really funny."

Both Oz and Xander joined in the laughter. "You even killed one by accident." Xander chuckled. "Maybe we should give you laced brownies more often."

"Ha ha..real funny." Buffy replied, sticking out her tongue at Xander and then curling further into Angel's leather jacket. He looked down at her and smirked.

"It's not funny at all," Cordelia said quietly. Everyone looked up at her and blinked. Her tone was so low and shaky that none of them were quite convinced that she'd actually spoken. She swallowed hard and said, "Someone could have been seriously hurt."< BR>
"Cordy, what are you talking about?" Xander asked, reaching for her hand. She evaded it and laced her fingers together.

"It's just.." she paused and took a moment to think before whispering, "These things aren't all fun and games. Horrible things can happen and things can go very..very wrong." There was a loud silence interrupted only by the crackling of the fire as the gr oup waited for her to continue. Closing her eyes, she began to speak in a voice so small that the group had to lean forward to hear her. "Back in eighth grade, if you wanted to be anything, you had to be a cheerleader so I was. I was the captain of the te am..it was a great honor..everyone looked up to me. Anyways, mid year, the team went to Culver Hills for a retreat..kind of like this except we were in cabins. Our coach that year was Jim Nordhoff."

"Didn't he teach math?" Willow asked.

Cordelia nodded thoughtfully, "Yeah, yeah, he did. No matter what he taught..we all wanted to be in it. All of us girls had a crush on him. He was young, cute and he loved to hang with us. He acted like one of us and never made us feel like children." She paused a beat and licked her lips. "On the second night of the retreat, he started passing around joints. None of us had ever tried it and some of us were scared but he said it was alright so we believed him. After about an hour of us smoking it and gett ing really..really high, he stood up and said that he needed to talk to me about new routines. I was the captain..it made sense at the time. I didn't think anything of it."

Willow reached over and handed her a paper cup of water. "Here."

Cordelia nodded, drank from it but still didn't look up. Taking a deep breath, she continued. "Um...I met him in his cabin..he had one all to himself..after everyone else had gone back to the main one. I thought it was strange when he locked the door but he told me that we were at a camp with other teams and these routines were our secret. God..I can still remember the tone he used when he called it 'our secret'. It was so sneaky and it creeped me." She laughed bitterly. "And then he kissed me and all I c ould remember thinking at first was 'this is the routine?' I was so stunned that I didn't even realize what was happening and I was so high that I'm not sure I really cared at first. I kept thinking that it was so neat and that all of the other girls woul d be jealous. I mean..Coach Nordhoff..it was like some pre-pubescent fantasy or something like that. But when he took off my shirt, I knew something wasn't right. I knew. I know I did. And he didn't stop there. I started cryin! g an d begging him to stop. Maybe even yelling but it didn't matter." She looked at her hands and stared at the empty cup for a few moments. "After it was over, he leaned down to me and said 'Cordelia...the unattainable black beauty...every guy wants you..ever y girl wants to be you.' And then he kissed me on the cheek and left. After the door shut, I just cried. I couldn't think of anything else." She laughed again. "And you know..he didn't touch me the rest of the year. I stayed on the team because if I had l eft..I dunno..I just couldn't do that. It would have been uncool. Couldn't have that. Anyways, on the last day of school, when we were getting our letters, he whispered in my ear, 'Remember what I taught you, Cordelia..you were great.' He transferred to J ackson the next year. Last I heard, he was leading up the champion junior high cheerleading squad for the school. And me...I can't help but wonder if he's done what he did to me to some other girl and if maybe I couldn't have ! stopped it."

"Cordy.." Xander whispered.

She shook her head feverishly, silencing him. And for a long moment, that was all there was and then she pushed herself up and away. "I...I..I.." she stammered before tossing the cup down and walking away towards the tents.

Buffy immediately stood to follow but Xander clamped a hand on her shoulder and very softly whispered, "Let me."

Buffy nodded and gave him a small smile of encouragement before retaking the seat next to Angel. She watched Xander move off towards the shadows which Cordy had disappeared into. Then she looked at Willow and Oz. Not surprisingly, they both looked shaken.

Oz rose first, offering a hand to Willow. "We're gonna...go for a walk."

Buffy nodded, "Don't go out of calling range, okay? We don't know if any more of Spike's crew is around. I doubt it but just to be safe?"

"Sure, Buffy." Willow said, taking Oz's hand and allowing him to lead her away. It was clear that she was troubled but Buffy was quick to discover that she herself was also disturbed by Cordelia's tale.

She curled closer to Angel and stared out at the fire, watching the flames leap and dance. Angel gazed at her intently, practically seeing the gears grind in her head. Closing his eyes, he wrapped his arms around her and brought her to his chest.




Her back was to him when he finally found her standing near the area where the tents the Slayerettes were sharing had been set up. She was leaning against a tree, with her palms spread flat on the trunk. She looked very deep in thoug ht but he could tell by her slight trembling that she was hurting.

Reaching out, he wrapped his arms around her and duck-walked them both into the tent he was sharing with Oz and Jonathon. Thankfully neither of them were present. He pushed her to the ground and then lifted her chin with a finger. "Are you alright?"

"I don't need your pity. That's not why I told you what happened." Cordelia snapped, pushing away from him roughly.

He caught her hands just as they pushed off of his chest, "This isn't my pity. Dammit, I care about you." He felt anger welling up inside of him. "God, why do you have to.."

"Have to what, Xander? Have my pride? I don't even know why I brought it up. I've been at peace.."

"Maybe you haven't," Xander countered, trying to reach for her again.

She flinched away from him, "You don't know what the hell you're talking about, Xander. You never do."

"I'm not him, Cordy. I'm not." Xander shot back, grabbing her shoulders.

She glared daggers at him and said in an equally icy tone, "Drop it."

"No, I won't. We need to talk about this."

"No, we don't." She said, turning away from him. "I don't need your sympathetic shoulder to cry on. You're not my big teddy bear, Xander."

He looked down and away, "You can't do it, can you?"

"Excuse me?"

"You can't just let go and believe that someone else could actually give a damn about you. You can't help but be the snobby higher-than-thou self-righteous bitch who pushes everyone away before they can get too close. Don't you understand that you've got to? Why can't you let someone else be there for you? Why does it all have to come back to you?"

"Damn you," Cordelia growled.

"It's gotta be you, though. Doesn't it? You're strong enough to get through everything by yourself, right? Nothing can ever touch you, right? Well, strike three because that's not true. We're here for you..dammit..I'm here for you."

"I don't need this," She hissed, shaking her head. "I'm outta here."

"No!" He reached out and grabbed her arm. In a quick deliberate motion, he spun her back towards him but what he got was only the flat of her palm against the swell of his cheek and a loud slapping noise to go with it. He dropped her arm in shocked astoni shment and then watched as she quickly fled towards the safety of her own tent.




She felt the coolness of his lips moving down the inside of her shoulder. Moaning, she reached out and pulled him closer to her, hot on cold but fire just the same. He grinned and pressed his mouth to her feverish skin.

She moaned his name as his fingers very gently released another button on the flannel she'd thrown on after Xander had gotten tree sap all over her overalls. He continued his voyage down her flesh with his mouth.

He'd protested of course. Said that there were too many people around. He'd been shy and that'd been cute but she'd been quick to assure him that everyone else was too busy doing their own thing. Interruptions, she'd murmured as she'd pulled his shirt off , were highly unlikely.

And he'd protested again, albeit lightly, when she'd pushed him down onto the row of three sleeping bags laid out on the floor of the girls' tent. Again, she'd silenced him and now suddenly he was the aggressor. She felt the intensity of his kisses increa sing and the hold on her small body tightening as he gave in to her.

"Buffy.." he protested once more, this time much weaker.

"God, shut up, Angel." Buffy moaned, weaving her hand through his thick hair and pressing his face to her collarbone. This time he didn't bother to protest; he swept her into his arms and and then rolled over so that he was atop her. With a growl that was almost a laugh, he pulled loose the last button of her flannel.

"What the hell right does he...oh my God.." Cordelia groaned as she pushed the zipper to the tent up and stepped in. She stared at the couple on the floor with abundant disgust and placed her hands on her hips. Immediately, Angel and Buffy separated from each other albeit reluctantly. "God, guys..get a room. Have some dignity."

"Sorry," Angel mumbled, grabbing his shirt and slipping out through the tent flap. Buffy hastened to quickly button up her own shirt.

"Sorry 'bout that, Cordy."

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Ever heard of discretion? Learn some manners, Slayer."

Buffy allowed the words to just roll past her. It was obvious that the taller girl was still venting. To no great surprise, her revelation had bothered her probably more than she's thought it would. After a brief moment, Buffy asked, "Have you ever talked to anyone else about what happened?"

Sighing loudly, Cordelia turned around from Buffy. Talking was not high on her wish list at the moment.

"Look, Cordy..we are here for you."

Cordelia spun and glared at the little Slayer, "So I've heard. Look, I'm fine. I think you guys are having more trouble with this than I am but if you're so interested in what I want..how about you go run off to your boyfriend and have your fun, okay?"

Buffy watched Cordelia turn away from her and reach for a magazine. Shaking her head sadly, she grabbed the throw blanket, wrapped it around herself and stepped out of the tent. She rezipped it and then turned to Angel who'd found a comfortable spot in th e shadows.

"She okay?" Angel asked, stepping behind her and taking the blanket off her shoulders. She whimpered a bit in protest but quieted when he first wrapped his arms around her and then pulled the blanket around the both of them. Not that he needed the warmth but it still worked better.

Shaking her head, she sighed, "I think she and Xander had another fight. Newsflash."

"Great." Angel said with a small laugh. Then he pointed towards the abandoned camp-fire pit. "Looks like we're sleeping under the stars tonight."

Buffy reached up and kissed him. Then she giggled, "Cool. You've been around long enough...you should know all the constellations."

He rolled his eyes and laughed.




It was well after midnight when Willow slipped into the tent. She zipped it back up and then moved to sit next to Cordelia. The taller girl was still flipping through a magazine but it didn't look like she was paying to much attentio n to what was in it.

"Hey Cordelia," Willow whispered softly.

"Hi," Cordy replied tersely.

"Are..are you alright?"

"Willow..please..I really don't want to talk about this." Cordelia said softly, putting the magazine down next to the sleeping bags. She snapped off the little flashlight and turned on her back.

Willow nodded, "Sure. Wow, it's cold." She glanced over at the third sleeping bag, "I saw Buffy and Angel out by the fire..I don't think she'll be needing this tonight. You wanna share?"

"Sure," Cordelia replied. "Goodnight, Willow."




"Hey Jonathon, Xander."

"Oz," Xander muttered. He was lying atop of his sleeping bag with his hands folded under his head. Oz spared him a concerned look and then reached into his overnight bag and pulled out a deck of blue-backed cards.

"Guys up for a game?" Oz asked, casually bridge-shuffling the cards.

Jonathon nodded, "Cool." He scooted over on his butt so that he was sitting on the same sleeping bag as Oz. Xander declined with a slight wave of his hand and then turned back to his own thoughts.

Damn her. He'd only tried to be there for her. She was his girlfriend and he was only trying to help. Why did she have to be such a bitch about things? Why couldn't she let anyone in? It wasn't like he would ever turn his back on her but just the same, ev erytime he tried to get close to her, she would push him away. But it wasn't just the pushing, it was the fact that she threw back fire. She was so damn difficult..

"I gotta pee," Xander said suddenly, jumping to his feet. The boys acknowledged him with mutters and then went back to their game. Xander sighed and stumbled out of the tent and into the cool night air. What he really wanted to do was talk to one of the g irls but he doubted that they were available. Since Oz had returned to the tent, that probably meant that Will was now shacking up with Cordelia.

As for Buffy...well..one glance over to the campfire confirmed that she was unavailable. No, it could probably wait until morning anyways. So what was left to do but return to the tent?

"No," he muttered. Shaking his head, he started to walk towards the campfire. Not towards Buffy and Angel who were talking in hushed tones and accenting just about every sentence with kisses but more towards the opening to the dense woods right behind the clearing.

He moved slowly and carefully, determined not to alert either the Slayer or her vampiric boyfriend. Damn the two of them and their heightened senses; it sure did make walking across a camp-ground a lot more difficult.

Once he cleared the sight, he sighed. A short walk would clear his head. That's what he needed. To stop thinking about Cordelia and how much she infiriated him. Okay it wasn't working.

Ah hell. Why did he let her get under his skin. She knew just what to say. How to hurt him. How to make it stick. Xander growled as he felt his anger rising. Gritting his teeth together, he reached out and slammed his fist into a tree. And then immediatel y howled in pain. "Smart, Harris." Xander scolded himself as he clenched his injured hand. He lifted his knuckles to his mouth and pressed his lip hard against the top of his hand. Backing away from the tree, he began to mutter at it. He was so wrapped up in his anger that he didn't even notice the abnormally sized root behind his foot.

And then everything went dark when he collided with the ground.




Angel watched her sleep; her chest rising and falling with every breath. A small smile played delightfully across her delicate features, dancing to a dream he could only guess about. She murmured softly and curled closer to him. If t hat was possible.

Reaching across the slim body that he held protectively against his own, he lifted up her left wrist. He glanced warily at the watch and sighed. Two hours until daybreak. Just long enough to get to relative safety. That being, of course, a dank and very d isgusting sewer system.

Careful not to pull the blanket off of her, Angel slipped out from under Buffy's still sleeping body. He was well aware that recent events had brought the young Slayer to the point of a complete mental breakdown from both physical and emotional exhaustion . Hopefully this retreat would go a long way in re-energizing her. He leaned down and kissed her lightly on the forehead and then stood to move away.

But she knew. She knew when he wasn't holding her and that was all it took to bring her partly back to her waking senses. "Angel?" Buffy murmured, eyes at half-mast and barely aware.

"Shh," Angel whispered, leaning over to place a finger lightly against her lips. A moment later he replaced it with his mouth. After a beat, he reluctantly broke away and said very softly,"I gotta go."

"Don't go," she murmured. Angel regarded her with an amused grin; she had no idea what the hell she was saying. He traced a hand across her jawline and watched as she pressed her cheek against his hand and tried to fall back to sleep. It was at times like this when it was easy to forget that she was the all-powerful Slayer.

Standing up, he moved away from her. She moaned in complaint but he continued his trek around the campfire. He picked up as many large pieces of wood as he could find and tossed them into the fire along with a newspaper. Once he was satisfied that the fla me would keep for awhile, he went back over to Buffy and leaned down next to her.

"I gotta go. Sunrise is soon," Angel told her softly as he pulled the blanket tighter around her obviously chilled frame. He held her there for a moment and then very gently dropped her back to the ground. Lying flat on his stomach, he brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes and kissed her on the forehead. "Get some sleep." Then he stood to leave.

"No," she whimpered. And then, looking very much like a small child, she grabbed at him and tried to pull him back down to her so that she could curl into his arms.

He broke her grasp gently and kissed her again. First on the chin and then on the lips. "I'll be back tonight," Angel reassured her, again pulling her blanketed body into his arms.

"You promise?" Buffy slurred, her eyelids dropping closed.

"I do," he replied, kissing her again and then reluctantly moving away from her. He pulled the blanket tight around her once more and then stood. Smiling at what appeared to be her sleeping form, he started for the clearing where he'd parked the rental ca r.

"Hey Angel?" Buffy murmured, her voice thick with sleep.

"Yeah?" Angel asked as he turned.

"I love you."

"I love you too, Buffy. Now go to sleep."




Daybreak brought peace. As she opened her eyes upon the new day, she felt as though she was completely ready to let it all pass over her. She'd slept well and been woken by nothing but the calm swirl of a nearby creek and the musical chirping of birds on the hunt for breakfast.

Yawning, both she and Willow stepped out of their tent. Almost immediately Will giggled and pointed towards the campfire. Cordelia smiled also when she saw Buffy lying curled up in a blanket, still sleeping soundly by a barely flickering fire.

"What's Buffy doing out there alone?" Giles asked, coming up from behind the two teens. Jenny Calendar stood at his side. Impossibly, Giles was dressed in a vest but at least he'd tried to be nature-boy; he was wearing a white tee-shirt under the vest ins tead of a dress shirt. Jenny was decked out in jeans and a flannel. Well at least one of them got it.

"I doubt she was alone most of the night, Rupert." Jenny said with a grin.

"What? Oh..oh." Giles muttered, looking down. "Right, um, well let's get breakfast started, shall we?"

Almost as if a magical switch had been thrown, sleepy forms started to emerge from the other tents at the mention of food.

Harmony walked over to them and glanced around, "Well, since you people are going to take forever to get breakfast ready, we're going to those disgusting bathrooms for showers." She then shook her head and walked past Buffy, her foot coming within an inch of the girls' head. Fortunately her head was so high up in the air that she didn't even notice Buffy's hand shoot out to grab her ankle and then stop and change direction. Once Harmony and her posse were gone, Buffy sat up and rubbed at her eyes with her fists.

"Man...I really don't like her." Buffy groaned. Willow offered her a hand and pulled her to her feet. Then both girls retreated over to one of the logs and placed the blanket over their knees.

"Oh hey..um...where's Xander?" Cordelia asked from where she was standing next to Giles and Jenny. She made a face as Giles handed her a stick of butter to use to grease a metal pan.

Buffy shrugged and turned to Oz and Jonathon who were just making their way back from the bathrooms. "Is Xander still in the little boys' room?"

"He did go.." Jonathon offered weakly.

Oz frowned, "Nine hours ago. He wasn't there when we went...in fact we haven't seen him since last night when he left."

"What?" Buffy cried, jumping up. "Are you sure?"

"Was he upset?" Cordelia threw in, pushing the butter and pan back into Jenny's hands. Neither of the adults looked too terribly concerned.

Oz nodded slowly, "Suppose so. He was kinda moody. We didn't really talk about it."

Buffy shook her head and glared at Cordelia, "Of course he was mad, Cordy. You always push so much...I mean...why do you always have to be such a bitch to him?" It was apparent by her tone that even though the adults remained calm, the Slayer was not happ y.

"Buffy!" Willow gasped.

Cordelia glared back at Buffy, eyes sparking fire. "I don't have to explain myself to you and it's none of your damn business what happens between he and I anyways," she spat back. "My question is..why didn't you see him leave, Buffy? I mean you did sleep outside last night..oh wait..you were too busy screwing your boyfriend!"

"Guys! Enough dammit!" Willow cried out, stepping between the two girls who looked very much like they were ready to brawl.

"We're not solving anything this way,"Oz added.

"He's right," Giles said, placing a hand on Buffy's shoulder. He gave her a hard look and kept it steady until she backed down from her fighting position. She took a deep breath and then nodded. "I'm sure that Xander just wandered off..he's probably fine. Just the same, we should organize a search party."

"Right," Jenny said with a nod. "Why don't the four of you.." she made a sweeping gesture to include Buffy, Willow, Oz and Cordelia, "go down to the creek and look. Rupert and I will check some of the other camp-sites. Jonathon, wait here in case he retur ns. Tell the other girls to stick when they get back.Okay, gang?"

There were general nods of agreement and then Buffy murmured, "We should get some supplies just in case Xander did get himself into trouble."




Buffy took the lead, carrying the back-pack on her shoulders. She'd loaded it with a rope in case Xander had managed to fall down a hill or something, a gallon of water which hung from the side of the pack, a blanket and a very downs ized first aide kit. Just band-aids and stuff. It would suffice.

She looked over her shoulder and saw Willow and Oz trailing a few feet back talking in hushed tones and carrying on a thumb war while trying to walk without tripping. And behind them, about five to six feet back was Cordelia who was still very obviously s till fuming from her argument with Buffy.

"Xander?" Buffy cried out, her voice echoing in the crisp morning air. She pulled her black and grey flannel shirt tighter around her. She called out for her missing friend again and heard both Willow and Oz repeat the call.

"Over here," came a voice from just beyond the trees; by the creek.

"Xander!" The quartet cried out in sinc. They all exchanged amused glances and Buffy lifted an eyebrow. Shaking her head, she grabbed Willow by the arm and took off towards the sound of Xanders' voice.

When they got there, they found him standing by the creek. He had his back to them but they could see that he was swirling a long stick in the water. He tapped his foot against the muddy embankment and then turned to smile at them.

"Xander? Are you alright?"Willow asked hurriedly as she moved over to inspect him for injuries. He put out a hand to stop her.

"Hey guys, I'm fine. I just came down here to think..I guess I lost track of time. Sorry if I worried you." Xander said, still smiling. He dropped the stick into the water.

"Well..as long as you're alright," Buffy replied, torn between scolding or hugging him. She finally settled on playfully punching him on the shoulder.

"Great. He's fine. Can we get back to camp so I can shower?" Cordelia asked with irritation weighing down her voice. It was better than letting any of them know how worried she'd actually been.

"Ya, wouldn't want you to have a bad hair day. Oh wait..that's every day," Xander quipped dryly.

"Hey guys, no fighting before breakfast, ok?" Oz pleaded.

Xander laughed, "Sure. Oh heyyyy...I found something." He made an excited motion with his hands," You guys have got to see it. It is so cool."

"Where is it?" Willow asked. "And what is it?"

"Not too far and it's well...no...I can't put it into words. You've got to see it with your own eyes." Xander gushed, reaching out to grab Buffy. He spun her quickly. "It's amazing."

Buffy laughed, "Okay. Five minutes extra won't kill us." She shrugged and wrapped an arm around his.

"Nope," Xander said with a strange smile, "But it is killer...trust me."

"I'd prefer to go back," Cordelia protested, hands on her hips.

"Then go," Xander countered. "You've been against this whole trip so far..why not this?"

"That is so not true," Cordelia growled. "You know what? I don't need any of this...I'm going back.."

"Wait a minute," Willow said softly. She reached out and grabbed Cordelia by the arm. Dragging her a few feet away, the girls had a quiet but very animated conversation that ended with Cordy yelling "Fine.". Willow smiled back over at the others. "We're r eady now, Xander."

"Excellent." Oz smiled. Then he looked at Buffy. "Hey, why don't you let me carry the pack for awhile. It will..increase my feeling of manliness." Willow laughed at him and grabbed his arm. Buffy smirked and very willingly handed over the back.

"Ready gang?" Xander asked.

Buffy grinned and looked up at Xander, "Lead on, Xand-man."

"Gladly," he replied, sticking a hand into the pocket of his jeans.

They walked for a few minutes, ten at least, with Buffy and Xander at the top. Once again Willow and Oz walked in the middle and Cordelia brought up the end. She continued to grumble to herself, eyes locked on the back of Xanders' head. He, of course, see med oblivious to it all. He continued to chat merrily with Buffy; making her laugh at his stupid jokes.

And then he stopped. And looked around.

"You sure you know where we are, Xand?" Buffy asked with an amused grin. She turned so that she was facing him instead of standing side-by-side with him. "The way you've lead us...I doubt we'll ever find our way out of here."

Eyes turning like slabs of rock, he whispered, "That's the plan, Slayer." And then he jerked his hand forward and slapped it with a hard twist of his wrist against her stomach. Buffy gasped and looked up at him with horror and pain reflected in her watert y blue eyes. She gasped his name as an uncertain question.

He watched as she turned towards the others, standing only on the strength of her will-power. Wavering and trembling fiercely, she reached down to her stomach and pulled the knife she'd given him the day earlier out of her. She looked at her blood drenche d hands in shocked wonder and then her eyes rolled back and her knees turned to jello. With a anguished whimper, the little Slayer crashed to the forest floor; blood streaking upwards and staining her flannel. As she hit the ground, several twigs snapped under the sudden weight.

"Buffy!" Willow screamed, dropping to her friends' side. She wasted no time in ripping the flannel away and peeling Buffy's white shirt up so that she could inspect the wound.

Cordelia rolled her eyes, "Oh hysterical, guys. How long did it take you to come up with this?"

Oz, who'd dropped down next to Willow and Buffy, stared up at her in horror. He then reached over and grabbed one of Willow's now blood soaked hands and lifted it so that Cordelia could see it. "No joke...oh God..."

"Xander, what have you done?" Willow begged as she took Oz's flannel and pressed it against Buffy's wound. The Slayer continued to tremble but somehow managed to stay both quiet and consious.

"I've had fun," Xander grinned. "Research boy got to do some damage. Damn..I don't think I've killed someone since the last time Buffy let me save her life." Then he frowned. "But I want more fun." With a shake of his head, he reached down and picked up t he discarded bloody knife. He wiped it clean with the tail of his shirt.

"Willow!" Cordelia screamed.

Xander cocked his head and smiled, "Aw..too late." And with that he shoved the knife to Willow's throat. "Stand up, Wills." His voice left little room for argument. Gazing evenly at Oz he said, "Don't even think about it, Wolf-Boy...I will bleed her dry b efore you lift your foot. Trust me, you don't want to piss me off."

"Xander, please.."Willow whispered. "Buffy.."

"Shut up," he growled. "I'm sick of always hearing about Buffy. It's always her."

"I've been saying that forever," Cordelia muttered. Then she looked up at him, "But this isn't you. You're not you. You must be possessed or something."

"Oh yeah," Xander laughed, "Dream on. This is me." He shoved the knife harder against Willow's throat. "All me. I guess I just had it with all of your self-righteous, self-absorbed all-me ways. Maybe I thought I'd teach you a lesson." Then he shrugged. "O r maybe I just wanted to play."

"Play-time is over, Xander. Buffy needs a doctor," Cordelia snapped back, dropping down next to Oz.

"Nuh uh..both of you up and away from our unfortunate Slayer." Xander growled. Then he pointed the knife away from Willow and towards Buffy. "As of right now, she's out of the game. It's just us." Then he turned back to Cordelia. "Up, love of mine...and g et the rope out of the pack. And the water. Go on, Oz..help her out. Let's make this quick."

Oz unstrapped the pack and opened it up so that he could get the rest of the rope. His eyes caught on the first aide kit and he locked gazes with Cordelia. She nodded almost imperctibly. Reaching across, she took the rope from Oz and lifted the first aide kit under the bulk of it.

"You really are a dumb bitch, aren't you?" Xander growled. "Damn, Cordelia...you know...brains never were your strong suit so stop trying to use what you don't have." He grabbed her by the wrist and forced her to drop the kit. Picking it up himself, he th rew it into the woods. "Now, you two walk in front of me...Willow will stay with me until we get to where we're going. Move out, glitter bunnies."

Cordelia threw him a disgusted look and then started to move slowly forward. Oz did likewise. Xander grinned and sighed and then wrapped his arm around Willow and held her close to him as they slowly walked behind the others. "God, do you know how great i t feels when a plan comes together, Will? It's awesome."

"Xander..please." She said softly, tears falling down her cheeks."She needs help..she'll die...please..please..."

"Shut up, Will. You're pissing me off now. Man..right when we were beginning to be okay with each other," Xander said in exasperation. He made a noise with the air between his tongue and his cheek and then pressed the knife harder against Willow's throat, drawing a drop of blood. She gasped more in surprise than pain but the sound just the same caused Oz to spin around in horror.

Xander smirked at him and then gazed around the area, "Okay, hey..this is far enough." He took the knife away from Willow's throat and then tossed her against Oz, causing them to both crumble to the ground. "Cordelia, sweetheart, tie them up for me."

"Why don't you do it yourself," Cordelia growled, throwing the rope to the ground.

His face contorted into a visage of pure rage. She barely had time to think before his hand connected soundly with her cheek. She closed her eyes tightly and bit back on the pain. "Dammit, do it or they all die."

Her face still stinging, she glared at him challenging. But then she saw the mental image of Buffy lying bloody and only semi-consious on the ground. He was serious. Slowly, the defiant resolve melted away and she bent down to comply. She crawled over to where Oz was holding Willow against his chest and lifted the rope up in a gesture that showed how helpless she was. He nodded understandingly.

"You okay, Willow?" Cordelia whispered as she began to wrap the rope around Oz and the young hacker. Willow nodded slowly and her eyes widened as she saw their assilant walk up behind Cordelia.

"Get down next to them, Cordy. Gotta tie you up, too. "

"Xander, please, what's wrong with you..this...this isn't you." Willow insisted.

"What do you know about me, Wills? That I'm sweet ol' lovable Xander. Side-kick extrordinaire and the loyal love-struck puppy-dog of the almighty Slayer?" Then he shook his head, "As for what's wrong with me? Nothing...I feel..." he paused and then prompt ly burst into song, "I feel pretty!"

Then with a laugh, he bent down and began to tie the rope tightly around the trio. He made a loose knot and then sat down, pointing the knife at the threesome. "Here's how it goes..you've got a decision to make, Cordelia."

"Oh? What's that..you want me to decide whether to kill you or just maim you?" She growled.

He dipped his head towards her in annoyed acknowledgement. "No, you get to choose who stays and who goes. That could mean who lives and who dies if y'all piss me off enough."

"What?" Cordelia whispered.

Xander sighed impatiently, "Spell it out, much? Alright, let me walk you through this..I see it's gonna take that much. Either you or Oz is gonna be set free. No, no..let me cut off your question..why? Right? Why? Because it's apart of the game and no gam e is as fun without a chance for the other team to win. So this is your chance. One of you two gets to try and find help..not that you have a prayer of it..but you get to try..before I decide to play slice and dice boy with the rest of you."

"Xander.."

"Your choice, Cordy. You or wolfy. Make it smart."

Cordelia turned her head away from him. Closing her eyes, she saw the image of Buffy flash in her mind again. Assuming that the Slayer was still alive, her time had to be growing short so whoever went for help had to be able to cover ground in a time effe cient manner. That would mean Oz..afterall, wasn't it possible that he still had some of his wolf tracking instincts even though he wasn't weirded out? But it was more than that. Because when it was all said and done, what it eventually came down to was t he question of whether or not she had the right to condemn another person to death.

"I'll stay."

"No!" Oz yelled. Xander silenced him with a dramatic point of the knife. Then he looked back at Cordelia.

"Good choice. Perhaps there still are a few working brain cells left in there, Cordy. Maybe we didn't smoke them all out of ya just yet, eh?" He laughed and bent to untie Oz.

"Under two conditions." Cordelia said suddenly, voice sharp but emotionless.

Xander turned back towards, the laughter gone. "Excuse me? Maybe I was wrong about the brain cells. Hello...I don't think so. This ain't your game, pom-pon girl."

"Yeah, well..if you want me to play, you'll let the others go.."

"Not happening. I said Oz..don't push it or I'll let you all go with nice little slits in your neck."

"Fine," she growled, "Then at least bring Buffy back over here and let Willow try to help her. Afterall, what do you have to lose? You know we won't leave her here. We're trapped with you."

Xander tapped the knife against his teeth as he thought about it. Finally he shrugged, "Sure..what do I care? We can watch her die in front of us. Yeah..yeah..that'll be fun. You know...payback for watching Jesse die in front of me."

"Xander," Willow gasped.

"Why thank you, Will. You just volunteered to go bring Buffy over her. I do love you." He finished untying them and then he tapped Oz on the shoulder. "Off with you now."

Oz stood reluctantly and looked at the girls. Willow nodded and he very slowly began to move off. Then Xander pushed Willow towards Buffy. When she protested that dragging her would only further injure the Slayer, he promptly laughed and said, "And that's a problem..why?" Finally, she moved to help Buffy.

About five minutes later, she reappeared half-dragging and half-carrying the semi-consious Slayer. She threw down her jacket and laid Buffy on it. Xander watched for a few minutes and then bent to finish untying Cordelia. As she'd said, with Buffy unable to do anything to save herself, the other girls were also trapped. "Are you enjoying the game, Cordy?" Xander whispered into her ear, his fingers grazing her left cheekbone.

Cordelia snorted derisively," Not likely."

"Aw, don't sweat it..because things are about to get even more interesting. I promise." He glanced over at Willow who was working feverishly to prevent the trembling Slayer from bleeding to death. He shook his head and sighed. "We're gonna start a new gam e. It's kinda like...truth or dare. Like last night. Only one itty bitty little change. See in this game..I ask all the questions and you answer them all."

"Xander, please..I know you're angry about last night but.."

"This isn't about last night you stupid bitch. God, do you really think that the entire world revolves around you?" Xander hissed as his eyes turned to cold hard slits.

"Fine," she agreed icily, "It has nothing to do with last night."

A smile slowly reappeared on his face, "So..you wanna play? Oh, come on..I know you do. Ooh ooh...this is gonna be so much fun."

"Umm, Xander?" Willow called out, her voice shaky. Cordelia turned her head to look at Willow who was sitting next to Buffy, pressing a light colored flannel against Buffy's wound. By the dark red tint beginning to overtake the cloth, it was obvious that Buffy was not in a good way. "Xander?" Willow called out again but just as before, he seemed oblivious to her.

Cordelia made a dramatic motion of pointing towards Willow and Buffy so that Xander would have to see it. He blinked and then turned towards them. Sounding almost bored, he drawled, "What?"

"Um, can..can I have Cordelia's jacket?" Willow asked. She looked over at Cordelia questioningly. Xander shrugged so Cordelia quickly removed the jacket. It was worth somewhere in the hundreds but right now the fact that it was about to be stained with bl ood didn't really bother her that much. It scared her, yes, but the reason for that was fear for the individual bleeding. Without a second thought, she tossed it to Willow.

She caught the jacket and immediately pressed it against the wound. Buffy made a slight whimpering noise at the pressure. Reaching down, Willow moved the little Slayers' head into her lap. She leaned forward and whispered for Buffy to hold on. Then taking Buffy's hand, she squeezed it. "Xander, this has got to stop...I don't know what's wrong with you but...please..she's losing too much..."

"Blood?" Xander finished for her with a laugh. "She's losing too much blood, is she, Will? Lemme see if ol' buddy Xander can help." And with that he moved over and bent down next to Buffy. "How ya feeling, Buffster?"

"Xander?" She whispered. "Wha...what's wrong...wi..with you?" Her hand shook as she tried to lift it up to touch him. Almost immediately, his face contorted and lashing out, he snagged her wrist in an iron grab. Holding it tight, he twisted it hard until there was a snap. Lacking the strength to scream in agony, she simply whimpered in pain; a tear streaking down her face.

"Xander! Dammit, stop it! Haven't you done enough?!" Willow howled. She squeezed the hand she was still holding and despite the Slayers' weakened state, felt equal return.

"Oh, I've just begun." He brandished the knife and flashed it in Willow's face. "Alright, here it is..I make the rules here, Will. You contradict me again and I won't give Oz ol' boy time to return with the rest of the Scooby gang...I'll make her bleed fr om her throat." Then he grinned. "Might even get creative and give her a nice big happy face." He bent down next to Buffy again. "You'd like that, wouldn't ya, Buff?"

"X..Xand? Where are you?" Buffy gasped out, shaking. She held her injured and quickly swelling left hand tightly against her body. Not that it mattered; she was soaked in blood and pretty much all of her that was important besides her head and her legs wa s injured.

He narrowed his eyes and leaned forward, "You don't learn, do you?" You never fucking learn. Just drag everyone around you kicking and screaming into hell. You wanna know where I am, Slayer? I'm where you sent me and now I'm right here." And with that he pulled back his fist and slammed it against her rib cage. She gasped out and began to cough frantically. Her entire body shook violently with each hack as she tried to force oxygen into her lungs.

Willow grabbed her friend and wrapped her body around her, rocking her in her arms until she managed to calm the Slayer into taking more sedate breaths. She then looked up at Xander, "I won't let you hurt her anymore..."

He growled at her and took a step forward, flicking the knife towards her, "I warned you.."

"Xander, stop." Cordelia said loudly. She looked up at him with determination and fear naked in her eyes. He knew she was scared. She wouldn't hide that. Let him know. He knew already. He had taken down the Slayer..it didn't get much scarier than that.

"What" Xander queried, looking at her increduously. He stood and loomed tall over Willow and Buffy. Not surprisingly, Willow continued to hold the fiercely trembling Slayer tightly against her own body.

"This is our game. You said so yourself. You and me. Let it be our game. Leave them out of this. It has nothing to do with them. Just us."

Xander grinned. "Quite right, Cordy. Quite right." Walking over to her, he pocketed the knife. "Okay, then let's start simple. My...thank you for agreeing to play. See I can be nice as long as you follow the rules. Then you don't have to bleed. Yet..anywa ys." He drummed his open palm against his knuckles for a few beats before finally grinning. "Oh. Oh. Oh. Yes, I got it now..see. Okay..here it is...how many guys have you...what's the magic word..anticipation time...fucked? How many guys have you fucked?"

Cordelia tensed up. Looking away, her gaze fell on Buffy and Willow. It was then, while she watched Willow work desperately to keep Buffy calm and still that she realized just how futile her resistance really was. How like the Borg. If she refused to play his game, then the Slayers' life was almost certainly forfeit. Her pride wasn't worth that much. Turning back to Xander, she whispered, "Three."

"Oooh...I take it he's not one of them, "Xander said thoughtfully, almost absently. Then he looked back up at her. "What were they like?"

"What?" she whispered.

"Aw..don't get squeamish on me now. I mean, if that's what you want..I can make you hold Buffy while I play the slicer boy. Then you'll know squeamish. All I'm asking is if you liked getting fucked. Not really a hard question for a scholar like you."

"Fuck you," she hissed.

"Not yet, love." Xander laughed. And then he leaned forward, "Course you never were my first choice of girls to do. I wanted Buffy but when she played cold except for the corpse...I figured you'd pony up and give a good ride." Then he sighed. "But once ag ain you distract me. Answer the question or I spill some more blood."

Staring at the ground, barely able to keep her mind from shutting down at the bitter echoing of his hateful words, she managed to force out the words he wanted to hear, "The first...hurt..I...um..cried through it all."

"Not a good memory," he stated.

"No," she whispered, clearing her throat. "The second was...more out of pressure than anything else."

"What was the sex like?" Xander murmured, pacing in front of her. He stopped and faced it, "Was it hard? Good..come on..." And then he started moving again.

She stared up at him, "It felt good. A fun time. The third was the best. He knew just what was right...what buttons to push. I enjoyed it..a lot."

And then she saw it. A flash of pain in his eyes. He was still in there. Her Xander..the one that still knew the side of the angels. Not the twisted demented one that had been formed by..well...only God knew the answer to that one. Before she could think too hard on it, she saw Xander turn his head towards Buffy and Willow.

"Hey, Will...I'm thirsty. We're outta water..see.." he reached down and grabbed the water bottle. Uncapping it, he poured it out. "Go down to the creek and get some more. From acoss the falls where the water is white. That means it's pure."

Willow took Buffy's good hand and pressed it down against the jackets over her wound. Then slowly, she stood. She could tell by his focused gaze that he wasn't playing games at the moment. He wouldn't hesistate to kill Buffy if she didn't comply.

As she started to walk towards the sound of rushing water, he called out after her, "Oh and Wills, hurry back or I may get a little knife happy." Willow stared at him for a moment and then did as she was told.



By the time Willow returned almost two hours later, she could tell by the setting of the sun in the sky that it was mid-afternoon. She trudged up to Xander carrying an empty water jug and set it down at his feet. "We're too lost..I c an't find it. And I won't let you kill her because I got lost."

Xander grinned. "That's okay. I've had my fun. You'd better get to nurse-maiding her, Will. You're always good at that. Picking up poor pathetic Buffy's life and putting it at the top of your list everytime she gets a boo-boo. Cripes... honestly don't kno w who'd more pathetic..." Then he sighed. "She's bleeding pretty heavy again. And she's making noise. It's in your best interests to make both stop."

"What did you do to her?' Willow demanded, anger flashing in her eyes. She looked over at Cordelia and was astonished to see the girl staring down at the ground, shaking as she tried to control herself. She could see the dark shading of newly forming brui ses on Cordy's cheeks. Sadly, Willow turned her gaze back to Xander.

"Now Will, take it easy there little buddy. You seem to have forgotten whose game this is." He jabbed the handle of the knife against his chest. "It's my game. Mine. So sit the fuck down and do what you can for her. Give her peace, keep her quiet. You do it or I will and believe me...my way is a lot more fun for me."

"You sick fuck, "Cordelia growled.

He turned to face her and grinned, "You ready to play again? Break over? I'll give you a few more minutes if ya want. I figure we have all the time in the world."

"Angel...Angel..." Buffy whispered suddenly, her words slurred and barely audible. Her eyelids were at half-mast and at best, she was only semi-consious. Her color was becoming increasingly bad as was her breathing. "Angel.."

Xanders' eyes blazed with fire and he took two steps towards Buffy and Willow. The red-haired girl, for her part, tightened her hold on the Slayer, once again cradling her.

"Don't you have anymore questions, Xander?" Cordelia screamed.

He spun on her and then slid down next to her, placing the knife against her throat. "Do you want to die, Cordy?"

"No," she replied hoarsely, her eyes refusing to lock with his.

"Then why do you keep challenging me? Doesn't it occur to you that maybe if I slice and dice Buffy over there..then maybe..just maybe..I'll feel happy again. And if I feel happy again, then we can end this little game? Wouldn't that be nice? Don't you wan t to live, Cordelia?"

"I want to live," she whispered, looking over at Buffy. She could see little more than the way that the Slayer shook with every trembling breath she took. And she could see the horrified expression on Willow's face as she tried valiantly to keep her best friend breathing. "I want us all to live. Please..end this."

Xander ignored her last comments, "You wanna live..then kill Buffy..make her scream and bleed. If you make it hurt enough..I'll let both you and Willow free."

"Xander.." Willow whispered.

"Well, Cordy....how about it..won't take much right now to kill her...you might even find out you enjoy it."

She looked up at him, "Fine. I'll do it."

"Wow...I don't fucking believe you." Xander hissed, grabbing her by the shirt. "I mean..would he actually believe that? Is he that stupid and gulliable? I'm not that dumb, little girl...no no no."

Cordelia clenched her jaw and turned away, "This game is getting old, Xander."

"Oh well, can't have that, "Xander teased. "Hmm...let's see here...what can we do to make this game more enjoyable for our dear Cordelia?" Suddenly he jumped and clapped his hands together. "Oh oh oh. I got it. I know...let's do some role-playing. Have yo u ever done that before, Cordy? You know..like with your other boyfriends...he's the big bad cop and you're the cheap hooker..well granted..that's not role-playing but you get the idea. Well, have you?"

"No," she whispered, looking away from him. It was so hard to believe that this was really him. But he spoke with Xanders' words. He was Xander...just not the good part of him.

"Oh..you'll like this one," Xander hissed into her ear. He stood back and clapped his hands together. "Actually it's simple for you..see you get to play poor pathetic you and me...well I get the juicy role. I get to be your cheerleading coach...what was h is name..oh ya...Jimmy Nordhoff. The big bad man who got the prize. That's me."

Her fragile hold on her remaining calm finally snapped, "You sick bastard."

"No, no, no...you know you liked it, " he growled savagely.

"Fuck you," she threw into his face. She felt the anger boil up inside her and harden her heart. And as he leaned in closer to her, to taunt her and challenge her, she felt the fury trip the wire that was holding her self-control in place. Without realizi ng just what she was doing, she pulled back and hit him as hard as she could swing.

He jumped back in pain and yelped. He placed a hand on his reddening cheek and then pulled away. As he stalked back towards her, his face contorted into a visage of pure hatred. "You're right...I'm sick of this game." Reaching forward, he grabbed her hair and then threw her into a tree. With a grunt, she collapsed to the ground; out cold.





"What's he doing, Will?" Buffy stammered. Willow glanced up at Xander and then back down at her injured friend.

"He's still pacing." And that was true. And had been true. For the last hour and half, he'd been walking both and forth in front of the unmoving form of Cordelia. Willow could hear him muttering but she couldn't make out the words.

"What about Cordy?"

Willow squeezed her hand tightly and whispered, "I don't know. She hasn't moved at all. I can't tell if she's breathing." She dropped her head to her chest and tried to blink back tears but it was becoming harder and harder. One friend was down and in unc ertain condition, another was lost and a third lay dying in her arms. And as for the fourth..well...he was just unstable and that scared the hell out of her. She'd loved him like family and it was so hard to think that somehow, someway, she'd lost her bes t friend to his own insanity. "Buffy..I can't stop him."

"It's gonna be..ok..okay, Will." Buffy gasped out. She squeezed back as hard as she could which was devastatingly weak. "It's night...Angel..." she stopped and coughed and then fell back against Willow.

Willow gazed up at the sky and found that Buffy was right, the sun was setting...total darkness was no more than a half hour off. Hopefully help would come then. On the other hand....if Oz had never found the group..or had been hurt..

"Stay strong....we'll get through this," Buffy murmured sleepily. She wanted to close her eyes and sleep but fear and pain kept her awake.

"I know..I'm just scared," Willow admitted.

Buffy raised her eyes so that they locked with Willow's, "After all we've been through, Will..we'll make it..we've come too far to die this.." her words broke off into a harsh body-racking coughing fit.

Willow tightened her hold on Buffy and as she waited for the tremors to subside, she resolved to become the strong one. "You hold on," she urged, "Oz will find help and we'll all make it out of here."

"And then..get Xa..Xander help, "Buffy gasped out, her eyelids dropping down so that very little of her blue eyes were actually viewable.

Willow watched her friend warily. She was fading fast but still holding onto some hope that their Xander was still there. If Buffy were stronger, Willow would have expressed her doubts but as weak as the Slayer was...

"Alright, alright..I get it now! She tried to play the game!" Xander shouted as he turned and walked towards Buffy and Willow. "Well I don't think so. It's a one player game. One fucking player. How the hell hard is that to grasp?"

"Xand," Buffy breathed. "Xander?"

He pulled back and hit her across the face hard enough to cut her cheek. "You don't talk to me! You never talk to me unless I tell you to! The rules!" He stood up and started walking in frantic, crazed circles, thumping the handle of the knife against his forehead. "For as long as I've been around...none of you ever fucking learn."

And then just like that, he turned and smiled. Bending down, he ran the tips of his fingers across Buffy's pale cheek. He looked up at Willow. "Play with me, Will."

"No, " she whispered, holding Buffy tighter as another wave of tremors ripped through the little Slayer. "This has got to end.."

His eyes blazed fire, "Oh it'll end alright, little buddy..but only when I say. Now you'll play or I'll start up a new carving lesson with Buffy." He grinned at the Slayer. "You'd like that..wouldn't you, Buffy? To feel the blood dripping out of your body . To feel your heart slowing..isn't that how you always thought you'd die? Isn't that how you're dying now? Slowly and afraid?"

"I'll never be afraid of you," Buffy whispered, opening her blood-shot eyes long enough to let him see the lack of hatred reflected in them.

"You're a fool, Slayer and you've led them all to hell!" Xander howled. Then laughed." Not that I'm minding. Hell's a beautiful place. You'll all like it there." He grabbed her by the collar and began to shake her, knowing just how much it had to be hurti ng. And was hurting.

"Leave her alone, Xander. You wanna play..then come on.." Willow challenged, voice trembling. Xander dropped Buffy back down and Willow watched as her friend curled into herself and began to tremble even more fiercely.

Xander grinned, "You see that, Buffy? You see how far they are willing to go for you? Cordelia died for you. That was fun. Will...that'll be better."

"Cordelia's dead?" Willow whispered, feeling as though she'd just been punched in the stomach."No..you're lying."

"Am I? Do you know that for certain? You willing to wager a stab per answer in our little game, Will? If you answer wrong, I get to put a hole in her. That okay with ya, little buddy?"

"Xander, don't.."

Xander waved the knife in front of her, forcing her to stand up. She kept her eyes locked on him the entire time, searching for any sign of her oldest friend. All she saw was the darkness. And as she tried to look away, she suddenly realized that looking behind him would be more dangerous.

"Come on, Willow....it'll be fun." And that was all he said before a large piece of wood connected with the back of his head and he sank to the ground. He tried to blink away the swirling colors and as he did so, he crawled towards Cordelia. He never made it there before everything went dark.

Willow turned and grabbed onto her rescurer. "Oz..."

"It's okay," he said, grabbing her arm and pulling her down to Buffy. Angel and Giles joined them while Jenny went to check on Cordelia. Assured that Buffy was in good hands for the moment, Willow turned to Ms. C. "Is she?"

"She'll be fine. She's just unconsious." Jenny said softly. "Willow, why don't you help me carry her to the van."

"Sure..." Willow replied absently as she looked back over at Buffy. She watched as Angel very carefully lifted Buffy off of the ground and into his arms. She whimpered softly, muttered something incomprehensible and then finally slipped into a state of un consiousness herself.

"She's dying..." Willow whispered, seeing Angel's uncharacteristally frightened look.

"She'll make it, "Giles reassured her. "She will. Oz, help me with Xander. Let's get the hell out of here. I think it's safe to say that we've overstayed our welcome in the great outdoors."

"Sure," Oz replied. As he passed Willow, he stopped. "Are you okay?"

"I'll be fine. It's Buffy I'm worried about."

"Have faith," he whispered, "Have faith."




"Cordelia? Cordelia? Can you hear me?" Jenny asked as she waved a clear capsule under the girls' nose. She timed her pulse again and then repeated the waving action.

This time it worked. Cordelia awoke with a jerk, gagging at the intense sensations and then moaning slightly at the memory of recently inflicted pain. "Xander?" she whispered, praying that someone would tell her that it was all a dream.

"Behind you on the floor," Jenny said softly, pointing to the floor of the van where sure enough, her tormentor lay unconsious. She stared at him for a long moment and then bit back tears. This couldn't actually be real..could it?

"He won't be hurting anyone," Giles promised from the drivers' seat. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, " she replied. "How's Buffy?" She glanced over her shoulder at Angel who was now ironically soaked with his girlfriends' blood. And yet she could tell by his expression that it wasn't the blood that troubled him...it was the fact that it was he rs. Yes, he was a vampire but for Buffy, he could control his blood-lust. Catching her eye, he gave her a small smile.

"She'll make it throught this. She always does." Angel told her softly.

Cordelia noodded and then turned back towards the window. Her reflection presented her with the image of a bruised and dirty young woman whose eyes had no light in them. Closing her eyes, she fought hard against breaking down. Without even realizing what she was doing, she began to finger the necklace around her neck.

Jenny leaned over the passenger seat and touched her shoulder. Cordelia looked back at her with eyes brimming with tears. "We're almost there," Jenny whispered, squeezing the girls' hand. Cordelia nodded and tried to push the tears back.
"What are you going to do with him?" Cordelia asked, pointing to Xander.

"He's gonna stay at my apartment until we figure out what's wrong with him," Angel spoke up. "That is, after we get Buffy checked into the hospital, I'll take him back and tie him up and then come back. He'll stay with me for a few days."

"Fine," Cordelia whispered. "I...I just want to go home." She looked up at the others.. "Please.."

"Maybe we should have a doctor check you out..you were knocked unconsious." Giles protested.

"Believe me..I'm fine." Cordelia said. "I think I'll walk from the hospital to my house."

"We'll get you there," Willow said, squeezing Oz's hand. To Giles, she added, "Then we'll double back."

"Right, okay. Cordelia, are you sure?"

"Yeah..I really am.I'll be fine. Just..when you find anything out...give me a call."





She watched just long enough to see a hand full of ER medics race up to the van and quickly load Buffy onto a gurney. One spat out her vitals and a handful of medical terms and then they raced towards the OR.
"Come on," Willow said softly, taking her arm. "Let's get you home."





She was twisting in her blankets, the sheets weaving about her legs. She turned frantically, trying desperately to outrun a nightmare. She was caught in the middle of a colorless replay of the days' events when the cordless phone by her bed went off. Once. Twice. A third time. Damn.

"Hello?" Cordelia groaned, clutching a sweat drenched sheet to her chest. A casual look at her digital clock revealed it to be just after three in the morning.

"Hi. Um, it's Willow," a soft voice said over the line. Cordelia blinked her sleep away and sat up.

"Oh God...Buffy?"

"Is going to be okay. She just cleared surgery and is in the process of being admitted to the ICU." Willow reassured her.

"So...she's alright?" Cordelia asked again, needing to make sure.

"Yeah..she'll be okay. Oz and I are here with Giles, Ms. C, Angel and Buffy's mom and dad. Everyone is a little calmer now. We were pretty..tense there for awhile. They're still not really letting anyone see her yet."

"Are her parents power-freaked?" Cordelia queried, flipping on the light next to her bed.

"They were pretty scared when they got here. Her mom has been here since earlier this evening but her dad just got in from LA a couple of hours ago. They both wanted explanations..them and the police so Oz and I told 'em when we went out for a hike, Buffy got attacked and knocked unconsious by a weird guy who ran off. I think they bought it."

"We did get attacked by some weird guy," Cordelia murmured absently. She glanced over to her desk where a little green and black picture frame sat. In the frame were four little black and white photos of she and Xander. They'd taken them at the last littl e fair on the docks. Shaking her head and forcing back tears, she flipped off the light again.

"I think she's still unconsious," Willow said softly. "The doctor told us that she's probably be out for a good portion of the next few days. He said she was pretty lucky."

"Ya," Cordelia murmured.

There was a large pause and then Willow said softly, "Xander's still out too."

"Good. He's safer that way. Look, Will, I'm gonna try to get some sleep. I'll stop by the hospital in the morning. Okay?"

"Sure...g'night."





Cordelia walked very slowly down the dark empty hallways of Sunnydale High. It was weird being at the school on a Sunday but as a Slayerette, she was quickly becoming used to it. Pausing for a beat and then sighing, she pushed open t he library doors and entered. Looking around, she saw Willow and Oz sitting at the table. Giles stood in the doorway of his office, scanning over the morning newspaper. Jenny Calendar stood next to him, sipping a cup of coffee and reading over his shoulde r which was clearly annoying him thereby in turn amusing her.

"Cordelia," Willow breathed, standing up.

"Are you alright? Oz asked.

"Peachy. Look..I'm sorry I didn't show up this morning..I overslept."

"That's quite understandable," Jenny offered.

"Thanks. So um..what's the deal?" Cordelia asked, looking up to Giles and Jenny.

"Well..Buffy's alright..as Willow told you. Or at least she will be. The doctors plan to keep her hospitalized for at least another week or so. They anticipate her being in the ICU for another week before they move her to a regular room for a few days of observation. With her healing abilities, she shouldn't be in there for more than six days or so. That is of course assuming she doesn't do anything to aggravate her injuries."

"And what exactly are her injuries?" Cordelia asked softly. She reached down to the table, picked up Willow's troll pencil and began to nervously play with it.

"Well...obviously her most signifigant one is the knife wound. She suffered a good deal of internal damage not to mention a large amount of blood loss. Unfortunately that's not the extent..her left wrist is severly sprained; she has no movement in it what soever. And there are quite a few contusions and lacerations."

"Not to mention bruised ribs," Willow added in.

"Well, you gotta give him some credit," Cordelia whispered, "When he said that he wanted to see her hurt..he really meant it." She sighed. "Speaking of..where is he?"

"Still with.." The phone rang before Jenny could finish the sentence. Giles lifted an eyebrow and then picked it up.

"Hello. Oh Angel..yes...um..how are things?" He paused, nodded, paused again and then sighed. "Well..are you sure? Alright..but be careful. Okay..yes..thank you..we'll see you tonight. Goodbye."

"Well?" Jenny queried as soon as the phone hit the cradle.

"Um..well that was Angel."

"He's good," Oz quipped.

Giles ignored him and plunged ahead,"He says that Xander has no memory of what he's done. And Angel believes him. In any case, they're going to head over to see Buffy at nightfall."

"Are you sure that's wise?" Willow asked.

"Angel will be watching. If Xander is trying to trick him..Angel should be able to stop him before he further injures her. However, I think we should go under the assumption that this could be the truth and Xander might not remember. In this case, we shou ld investigate both supernatural and psychological reasons for what occured." Giles replied.

"Right," Jenny said. "Willow...you and I can use the computers to look through DSM IV."

"Gotcha." Willow replied. Then she sighed. "You know..I usually love research parties..usually being the key word here."





Angel watched from the doorway as Xander very slowly and cautiously moved through Buffy's ICU room. Holding a small bundle of flowers in his hand, he sat in the chair beside her bed. Almost immediately, her eyes flickered open. Seein g Angel in the back, she seemed to instinctively know that it was okay and that this was her Xander.

"Hey Xand," she whispered, pushing herself into the sitting position with a low groan. She settled back against propped up pillows and then looked at him with a weak smile. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Angel mouth the words "He doesn't remember a nything." She nodded slightly and then reinforced her smile.

"Hey," Xander replied, taking her uninjured hand in his, "How ya feeling, Buffster?"

"I'm okay although I gotta tell ya Xand-man...I'm not loving the food here."

He smiled at her joke but she wasn't fooled; she saw sadness lurking in his dark eyes. Taking her hand from his, she reached up and touched his face. He smiled again, this time for real and said, "It's nothing. I..I was just worried. I woke up this mornin g in Angel's apartment and all he could tell me was that I'd been knocked unconsious and that you'd been seriously hurt. God...Buff..what happened?"

"I'm not even sure, Xand. It all happened so damn fast. But it doesn't matter..it doesn't...because we're all okay now." Buffy reassured him. And it wasn't like she way lying..afterall..she really wasn't sure what had occured the previous day.

"I had dreams," he whispered. "I saw things."

"Wha..what?" Buffy questioned, exchanging a worried look with Angel. She tried to adjust her positioning but only ended up gritting her teeth and holding back a cry of pain. Xander quickly moved to help but she put up a hand and urged him with a nod of h er head to continue.

"When I was knocked out..I guess." He looked up at her and she saw mist in his eyes. "I saw myself hurting you...hurting them. God Buffy..in my dream...I did this to you. It was a dream..right?"

"Just a dream, Xand." Buffy murmured, as much to herself as him. "In any case..it's over. Everyone is gonna be just fine. The docs say that I'll be outta here in no time. Just as long as I..."

"Behave," Angel smirked, coming up from behind them. "That means you stay on your back and do what the nice men in white coats tell you to do until then."

Buffy scowled,"We'll see about that. I'm a girl of independence. I must have my independence. I can't be held down."

"I bet I could convince you to stay in bed," Angel grinned, tracing a finger over her jawline.

She shivered slightly and whimpered, "No fair."

"I agree!" Xander cried. "Yuck guys! I mean c'mon...Buff..your parents are in the hallway talking to the doctor.."

"They know about me and Angel...."

"Yeah..I remember..your mom found the two of you making out on the porch..believe me..I remember," Xander quipped dryly. "Hey, you know what..I'm gonna leave you two love-birds and go find Cord..."

"No!" Buffy and Angel both cried at once. Buffy groaned and then shook her head to keep both of the boys at bay. "Xand..I..uh, talked to Cordy earlier..she's pretty busy tonight. Family, I think. Hey...I got an idea...why don't you stay and chat with me t onight? I could use the company. All my parents keep doing is fixing my pillows...it's driving me batty."

"What about you and Angel? Wouldn't you much..."

"Giles wanted Angel to help him translate some new fire and yuck prophecy that will probably end up getting me all bruised and battered. So....I guess that means it's just you and me tonight." She stuck out her lower lip and gave him her poutiest look. "U nless of course..there's something else you'd rather do."

"Of course not," Xander chirped. "I get to play nurse-boy. Cool." He grinned. "Hey Angel...oh wait..you guys want a moment...right?"

Buffy grinned and gave Xander a small push with her good hand. Once he was outside and probably creating a diversion so that her parents didn't interupt her "session" with Angel, she turned to him. Smiling up at him, she reached up and brought him down to her. Then she gave him a small kiss.

"How are you really feeling?" Angel asked with concern. He knew her well enough to see past the humor to the pain. That and he could smell the blood. The dressing for her stomach wound would have to be changed very soon.

"It hurts," she whispered. "A lot. Everytime I move, I can feel it. But I can deal. I'm more worried about the rest of them. Especially Xander and Cordy. She won't admit it and he doesn't remember it but they both will."

"I know," he said. "I'll keep an eye on her. You watch your back with him. Xander is.."

"My friend. He's Xander. It wasn't him, Angel. I don't know how I know..but I do."

"Alright..just be careful. I'll stop by later tonight and dammit..relax, okay?"

She winked, "We'll see. That just might cost you extra."

He grinned, shook his head and then leaned down and kissed her.




Xander walked through the crowded hallways of Sunnydale High. Students moved around him like ants, all rushing to get to their homerooms. He moved towards the library in a foggy daze. He'd spent the entire night sneaking in and out o f Buffy's room so that he could stay and talk with her. He'd been forced to avoid the nurses who'd not so gently reminded him that in the ICU when visiting hours were over...that meant that they were OVER. Of course, Buffy hadn't really wanted to sleep... something about not really caring to do the REM thing.And although he'd known that he should have forced her to rest because of her fragile condition...the truth had been that he'd needed the conversation as much as she. So they'd talked. About his dreams . And somewhere during the middle of the night, he'd found himself completely void of all energy but they'd continued talking. Well mostly he had. After about two in the morning, she'd started to slip in and out of an exhauste! d dream-less sleep. In any case, he felt like his le gs were made of lead. The damn dreams had felt so bloody real..and he couldn't seem to just open his eyes and make them go away.

Glancing up, he saw Cordelia standing alone by her locker. The door was open and it looked like she was checking her make-up in the little magnetic mirror. Smiling slightly, he moved towards her. "Hey Cordy," For her part, she spun so fast that he was hon estly surprised she didn't develop whip-flash.

"Xander," Cordelia stammered, plastering on an unconvincing smile.

"Yup," he grinned, leaning in for a kiss. What he met however was not her lips but the soft swell of her cheek. He pulled back in confusion. "What's wrong? Oh hey look...I'm sorry I didn't call last night. I spent the entire night at the hospital..."

She nodded slowly, her eyes not meeting his. Instead, she gazed evenly at a poster on the wall behind him. "That's okay..I was..um..out anyways."

"Good, good. So...ya headed to homeroom? Want the Xand-man to escort you?"

She looked up, initially startled and inadvertingly caught his eye. Looking away quickly, she murmured, "Actually I gotta talk to Harmony..about ..something.."

Xander's eyebrows lowered, "Okay..um..well...meet you in the library after homeroom then?"

"Yeah," she nodded quickly. "I, uh...I gotta go." She gave him a quick uneasy smile and then brushed quickly past him, barreling into Willow in her rush.

"Cordelia..we need to talk," Willow hissed, grinning up at Xander. Cordelia glanced back at her boyfriend somberly, touched her necklace and then nodded. Not missing a beat, Willow grabbed her by the arm and yanked her towards the girls' bathroom. Willow quickly checked the stalls to ensure that no one would overhear them.

"It's all around school about Buffy getting attacked," Cordelia started uneasily. "People are saying that an escaped lunatic from Wacko Hill did it. But we know better, don't we?"

"Cord.." Willow stopped abruptly as two giggling freshmen entered.

Narrowing her eyes, Cordelia growled, "Get lost." The two girls exchanged looks and then left, muttering as they went. "Go on, Will...you were about to tell me that I shouldn't be like this."

"No..you have every right but you've got to understand...he doesn't know what's going on. Right now..more than ever..we need to stick together. For us. For Buffy. And for him."

Cordelia clenched her teeth and turned away, "He's the bad guy, Will. He's the goblin under the bed this time."

"He's still Xander. It wasn't him."

"God, Willow...were you even listening? Were you even there? Did you hear the things he was saying? That was Xander! He knew exactly what he was doing. He tore into all of us...tried to destroy us..it was him...maybe a bad side but still Xander..still wha t he's capable of being."

"I know...Ms.Calendar and I are working off the theory of multiple personality disorder.Who he was there is characteristic of the classic protector personality..."

"You know, Will...right now I don't really care what's wrong with him...I just want him to stay away from me until I can sort things out in my own head. I'll worry about the whats and whys later."

"Are you going to break up with him?"

"Right now I just want to avoid him. Breaking up isn't really one of my concerns at the moment," Cordelia replied evenly. She sighed. "You know what..I can't deal with this today..I'm going home." She shook her head and started for the door. As she moved, Willow reached out and caught her arm.

"Cordelia...I'm sorry..I'm just scared...I don't mean..."

"I know. but you know what it comes down to? Trust. I'd gotten used to all of this weirdness you guys got me into but I never thought it would become part of me. But it has. I can't sleep without nightmares now...without seeing his face full of fury. He w anted to hurt us...he tried to kill Buffy. And all I keep thinking is...if I can't trust the man I'm dating..the man I care a lot about..then who am I supposed to trust in this hell?"

Willow looked at her helplessly and then whispered, "I don't know..."

"That's what I thought," Cordelia said with a bitter laugh. "And you know..it may be none of our faults in the long run but somehow we're all doomed." She laughed again and then moved swiftly through the bathroom doors,leaving them swinging in her wake.




"God, Giles...I'm bored." Buffy growled as she aimlessly stirred a half-full cup of cold beef broth. He was only the third visitor she'd had all day. Of course it hadn't helped that she'd finally gotten annoyed with being coddled and had all but thrown her parents out.

"You didn't eat much," Giles noted as he took a seat next to her bed. "You really need to.."

"I know, I know...eat so I can regain my strength. Rest so I can regain my strength. You know..I have been hearing that from everyone who comes near me." She sighed dramatically. "Dammit Giles...I'm bored and these old grandpa doctors keep trying to sedat e me and dope me up on painkillers."

"Well, does it hurt?"

"Well yes," she replied sarcastically. "But Giles...these old guys wig me..."

Giles lifted an eyebrow in amusement,"Buffy, no one here is much older than forty or so."

"See?" she replied with a pout. "Giles..you want to know what I've done today? I woke up, ate something unidentifiable and then was drugged and sedated. Someone touched and poked me a lot and got obscene pleasure in hearing me in pain and then gave me mor e drugs. Do you know what it feels like to have cotten in your head? You can't think around that. You try but it just doesn't happen..."

"Buffy.."

"So then after the mean man in white touched me and redressed the wound which was nice and bloody..I might add...they sedated me again. Next thing I know...I'm waking up needing to pee and Nurse Psycho wants to watch. I think she threatened to sedate me a t first..

"Well..they seem very nice to me," Giles put in with a grin.

"Wow..color me shocked," Buffy dead-panned. "I bet you're the one behind all the sedatives." Shaking her head, she tried to adjust her position and ended up wincing as a shot of pain raced through her like fire. "Okay...ow...ow." She gritted her teeth and closed her eyes until the intense agony turned back into a dull throbbing. "Ow. Okay Giles..I'm bored. That means you get to entertain me. Let's start with...what's going on at school for two hundred."

"What?"

"Jeopardy, Giles...get with it. Now answer the question."

"School?" Giles repeated, not really wanting to burden her with the investigation into Xander's mysterious condition. He'd spoken with Joyce Summers before entering the room and she'd told him that although Buffy was making good progress, she was still be ing rather difficult about the whole thing. Not suprising considering that she was the Slayer and she harbored a rather large dislike of hospitals. Just the same, she was far from in good shape. Her being up and talking was almost a mirage; he knew that s he was still weak and in a tremendous amount of pain.

"Right. Is Xander okay? He was up with me all last night talking about what he thinks are dreams. Sooner or later, he's gonna know the truth. We need to be able to offer him an expla...Giles? What is it? You're staring at me.."

"You're remarkable, you know that? You only care about helping him.."

"He's my friend. He's Xander. I gotta believe that there is a good reason why he tried to kill me. And for what he did to Cordelia...if you could have seen it, Giles...you would understand. God..it wasn't him."

"It might be harder to convince Cordelia of that," Giles murmured. "Willow tells me that she's not coping well."

"I imagine not. If I weren't the Slayer..I might not be either."

"If you weren't the Slayer..you'd be dead of blood loss," Giles reminded her.

"Thank you Doctor G," Buffy quipped. She rolled her eyes, "He stabbed me because I am the Slayer."

"Um, yes, quite right," he conceded. Then he sighed, "Well..as fun as this has been.."

"It's time for you to leave me to the dull fate that is mine and return to the dusty stacks of Dodge," Buffy groaned.

Giles rolled his eyes, "How melodramatic. Why don't you try sleeping? Allowing the wound to heal. You're not helping it by moving so much."

"Whatever. Hey Giles?"

"Yes?"

"Bring me something to read." They locked eyes. "Stop staring at me like that..I know how to read."

"Um, yes, right..I know that..it's just that well..frankly you've never expressed interest in extracirricular vocational literary comsumption."

"Uh..yeah..whatever the hell you just said. But hey..my interests can change." Buffy insisted.

"Right. Alright. Requests?"

She crinkled her nose as if to think. "Hmm..yeah. Something you would read. You know...something covered in dust and cobwebs..with you know...all yellow icked pages."

"It's lovely to see how much you respect my resource collection," Giles muttered dryly.

"Oh lighten up. How about something about say...hm.." she appeared to be deep in thought again and then she drummed a finger against her temple. "Demons that possess human bodies."

Giles' eyebrow shot up and with heavy suspicion in his voice, he queried, "Any particular reason?" He had a pretty good idea what she was up to but just the same, he decided to question her. He knew to trust her hunches but still...

"Nah," she shrugged, flinching at the movement. Recovering as quickly as she could, she chirped, "Just bored." She wasn't quite ready to let him in on her thoughts.

"Alright..well...Willow and Oz plan to stop by after school ends this afternoon. Something about homework and that computer box thing."

She wrinkled her nose in amusement,"Gameboy, Giles. C'mon...say it one time with me; computers are not the enemy."

"Cute. In any case..I'll uh, have them bring the book..on demons who possess individuals..to you this evening."

"Nice, Giles. Good try though. Points for effort. Look, if I find anything out...from my totally disinterested and completely bored reading...I'll let you know."

"Fair enough," Giles said with a nod. "On one condition."

"What's that?" She asked dryly. "That I let the evil nurse sedate and drug me without trying to break her nose again?"

"Wow," he grinned, "You do learn."





He waited almost an hour after school for her to show but she never did. And in the meanwhile, he managed to annoy Jenny Calendar to no end. Finally she sighed and went into Giles' office to play on Willow's lap-top. She was looking up something or other.

With a dramatic sigh, he moved over to the desk and picked up the phone. He dialed quickly and waited as the phone rang. Once. Twice. Three times. "Hello?"

"Oh, hi Mr. Chase. This is Xander..is Cordelia around?"

Therer was a slight pause and then Jack Chase replied, "Actually Xander, she's not feeling very well. She came home from school early."

"Thanks. Tell her I'll stop by later tonight, okay? Cool. Bye." He hung up the phone and then slouched against the desk. What a day. Looking up, he saw Willow and Oz emerge from the office. "Hey guys," he chirped.

"Sorry Xander..we gotta fly..Buffy is expecting us," Willow replied, squeezing his arm. And with that said, they disappeared. Xander made a face. Alone again.

Having nothing better to do, he decided that he would take a walk. He felt a little guilt at not going with Willow and Oz to the hospital but he knew Buffy would understand. It'd been hard enough to stay with her the night before and watch her in so much pain. He needed some time to think. To try to make things make sense.

And so he started walking. He'd never had a remarkable sense of direction but ever since he'd become a Slayerette he'd discovered that these thought walks often took on a life of their own. This being the case, he found that he wasn't even slightly surpri sed to find Cordelia's house in front of him when he stopped walking.Gazing up at the second story window where he knew her room was, he saw movement.

Sighing, he trotted across the lawn to the front door. He rang the bell and waited impatiently. It wasn't all that long before Jack Chance opened the door. He smiled widely at the boy. "Hello, Xander."

"Um, hi Mr. Chase..I know I just called....but I really want to see her."

Jack smiled sympathetically,"She's feeling much better actually. She uh..just left with her mother to go shopping. I'll tell her you dropped by..I'm sure she'll give you a call tonight."

Xander nodded slowly. "Right..." he didn't bother to tell the man that he was pretty sure he'd just seen Cordy up in her bedroom. He plastered on a smile and then said. "Thanks." Jack Chance nodded and shut the door. Xander waited a few moments and then t rotted back over to the side of the house.

Fortunately, there was a large oak tree by her window. Wasting no time, he began to climb it, grunting as he asscended. Once he reached the roof, he slipped onto his stomach and crawled the rest of the way to her window. Reaching out, he tapped soundly on the window.

Cordelia heard the sound before her eye registered his presense and without intending to, she jumped up startled. "Xander?" She moved over to the window and opened it so that he could crawl in.

He brushed himself off and then laughed, "Now I know what Angel feels like everytime he sneaks into Buffy's room. Well not everytime..."

"Xander..what are you doing? Why are you here?" Cordelia queried, quickly moving away from him and over towards the other side of the room.

"Well...see there's some weirdness going around. First you take off from school after acting really weird. Then I call and your dad says you're sick..makes sense. But then I come by and he says you just left. What's going on?"

Cordelia shook her head, "Look...can we..can we just talk about this tommorow? I really am not feeling well.."

"Then let me help. I can play nurse-boy. I did it last night with Buffy," Xander quipped. He reached out for her arm and pulled her to him. He placed a finger under her chin and lifted it so he could see her eyes.

But what he saw there was fear.

"Oh God...Cordelia..what's wrong?" Xander demanded.

She pulled away from his gasp and turned away, "Nothing."

"Cordy.."

"Just stop it, okay? Just leave me the hell alone!"

"Dammit! Talk to me!" Xander yelled, his own anger flashing hot in his eyes. "What did I do?"

She flinched away from the anger in his tone and retreated to her desk. She placed her palms flat on the wood and stared down at the necklace he'd given her a few days earlier. She'd tried to wear it even after the attack but it too hurt. As she gazed dow n at the chain and ring, her eyes darkened. By the time he placed a hand on her shoulder, everything had changed.

"You really want to know what you did, Xander?" Cordelia replied, spinning around. She was wearing a crazed grin on her face as she moved towards him, finger jutting out at him accusingly. "You wanna know what's wrong?" She pushed him down into a chair an d then leaned over and whispered, "You want to know why all of the sudden all of your friends are so fucking scared of you that they constantly look like they've just seen a ghost? How about why you see fear everywhere you look? And why I can't even stand to be next to you?"

"What did I do?" Xander asked, eyes watering.

"You tried to kill us all," Cordelia said simply, eyes like slits. "Oh that's right dear Xander. You pulled a knife on us. You tried to gut Buffy like a fish. You put our lives in danger. For ten long hours, you held Willow and I captive while you allowed Buffy to lie there bleeding to death. You beat us all up..even her..even after you'd already stabbed her."

"No..stop..."

"Oh..oh but Xander..it gets so much better!" Cordelia hissed into his ear. "You demanded to know my sex life and then you insisted on further humiliating me trying to play a role-playing game and recreating my first time. You wanted to be Coach Nordhoff."

"No...you're lying.."

""And now you're saying that you don't remember any of it? Not the thrill you felt when you ripped Buffy's flesh apart. Not the power that surged through you when you made me decide between Oz and myself. But you do remember..don't you? You liked almost k illing her and you liked hurting me and Willow. It made you strong..powerful.."

"No!" Xander yelled, shoving her away from her. "You're fucking psychotic."

"No honey...that would be you," Cordelia laughed. Then she turned back to the desk. "I think it's safe to say that we're officially over."

"Why are you doing this?" Xander pleaded.

She laughed, "Because I want you to hurt the way I hurt." And then she picked something up from the desk and hurled it at him. It knicked him on the chin and caused a drop of blood to form. Reaching out with his hand, he caught the object before it hit th e ground. Lifting it up, he recognized it as the necklace he'd given her. He glanced up at her desperately, hoping for some explanation but when all he saw was psychotic fury, he turned and ran from the room, brushing past Jack as he went.

The older man watched the departing boy in shock,"Cordelia..what is..what is going on? How did Xander..?"

Cordelia all but skipped into the hallway,"It's okay, daddy..we just had a little fight. I'm gonna go talk to him. It'll all be alright by tommorow morning. I promise." And then she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.




"So, what's the word, Giles?" Willow called out as she and Oz entered the library carrying two brown bags full of fast food from Woody's Eat-Out. She quickly handed out two oversized hamburgers to both Giles and Jenny.

"Word?" Giles asked as he took a large cup of ice tea from her.

"On what Buffy is up to..why did she want a book on demons," Willow queried. "She wouldn't even tell me. That's not usual. I'm not liking unusual."

"I suspect that Buffy is working off of a supernatural tilt on what occured with Xander." Giles replied.

"And we're still looking at psychological," Jenny informed her.

"Okay then.." an unsteady voice said from the doorway, "Since it's safe to say that you're investigating me for some reason...anyone care to tell me what the hell I did?"

"Xander?"Willow cried, looking up. She and Oz exchanged worried looks.

"Yeah,Will...it's me..or is it? So what I want to know is what the hell I've done? Did I do what she said I did? Did I try to kill Buffy?"




She dressed quickly, ignoring the nearly blinding bolts of pain that ripped through her like flashes of red hot fire. Every movement caused another. As she pulled on her tee-shirt and allowed the hospital gown to fall to the floor, h er eyes caught on the heart monitor sitting by her bed. She was supposed to remain hooked up to it for at least another two days but some young nurse had turned it off. Talk about luck, That pretty much took care of forced interruptions by the hospital. N ow all she had to do was sneak past the main desk and slide into the elevator.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?" Angel growled from the doorway. He stared at her with dark eyes full of a cocktail of emotions. Fear. Anger. Concern. Love. Frustration. He gestured at her with his left hand which held a small brown and white s tuffed rabbit. "I know you're not doing what it looks like you're doing."

Well, it'd been a good idea in theory. Afterall, Willow and Oz had left at least two hours ago to return to the library and her mom had taken her dad to the museum so that she could show him around. But Angel...well...oops.

"Angel," Buffy said with a sweet smile, "Hi, honey.. how was your day?"

"How much am I going to have to fight with you to get you back in bed, Buffy?" Angel asked warily. He moved a couple steps towards her.

Buffy lifted an amused eyebrow,"Not much, lover."

Sighing dramaticaly, he decided to let that comment go over his head. "Buffy," Angel scolded, "You heard what the doctor said..your injuries are extremely fragile. Any exertion could rupture the wound. Buffy...you could bleed..."

"Not now,Angel. I've got to get to the library. My spider sense just kicked into overdrive. Something very bad is about to happen and I need to be there now."

"I'm guessing you know what?" Angel asked.

"Yeah," she replied, letting out a moan of agony as she leaned over to lace up her boots. "And if it happens...me dying will be the least of our worries." She looked up at him. "C'mon...I'll explain everything on the way there."

"The way?" he asked, leaning over and wrapping an arm around her. She was shaking so badly that she could barely stand. She needed his support.

"Right. I tried calling but the phone line is dead. We gotta go...now!" Buffy replied, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist and allowing him to support her almost completely. Leaning up slightly, she pressed her lips to his. "Angel, my love..you jus t became my partner in crime. We're breaking outta here."




"Did I hurt you, Will?" Xander demanded. "Did I stab Buffy? Am I responsible for her almost dying?"

"Xander.."

Dammit..tell me the truth!" Xander cried, tears filling his eyes. "Please..I have to know...did I do those things? Am I one of the monsters we've been hunting?"

"God, no...you mustn't believe that, Xander." Giles murmured, stepping around the desk.

"How can I not?" Xander replied bitterly. Then he looked back at Willow. "Did I do those things?"

Looking down at her hands, she nodded slowly. "Yes."

"Oh God..." Xander stammered, stumbling backwards and falling against the wall. He crumbled to his knees and dropped his head.

"Who told you?" Oz asked, stepping over to him and bending down.

"I did." Another voice from the doorway said. The others looked up and into the eyes of a very infuriated looking Cordelia Chase. And yet somehow, she was still smiling. She moved over to Xander and pushed Oz out of the way. "See my little boy-toy...I was right." And then she pulled back and hit him as hard as she could across the face. He cried out and sunk even further against the wall.

"Cordelia!" Giles yelled, walking towards her and placing himself in front of Xander. "Stop this. I know you're hurting but this solves nothing."

"You know nothing, librarian." Cordelia spat. "Now get the hell out of my way."

"Cordelia, what is wrong with you?" Willow demanded, walking towards her. She bent down next to Oz and then looked up at the taller girl. "This isn't like you at all."

"That's because it's not her," a third new voice said from the doorway. The tone was dry and daring. "I'm right, aren't I...Asher?"

"Buffy?" Giles exclaimed, turning to stare at his Slayer. She was leaning heavily against the strong frame of her vampiric boyfriend.

"Slayer." Cordelia growled, her voice taking on a sinister pitch."I knew I should have killed you when I had the chance."

"Your bad," Buffy quipped, her watery blue eyes locked into the intensity of her battle gaze.

"Cordelia? Buffy? What the hell is going on?" Willow asked desperately, her own eyes full of fear and uncertainty.

Giles looked from his wounded Slayer back to Cordelia. "Asher? My God...is it possible?"

"Yeah, Giles...just trust me on this one," Buffy replied. She closed her eyes in pain and then looked back up at the demon in Cordelia's body. Very slowly, Giles nodded. He knew better than to argue the word of the Slayer when she had that particular look on her face.

"So tell me, Slayer..how did a vapid blonde bitch figure it all out? A Read Me the Clues book?"

Buffy smiled sardonically at Asher,"Oh you're good...did years of stealing bodies teach you colorful language like that?"

"No," he whispered, "Just a few hours in your friends' bodies taught me how much they despise you."

"I'm not buying, Asher. You can't hurt me like that." Buffy replied.

"Yeah, whatever, Slayer..so tell me..how did you figure it out?"

"You really want to know? You actually thinking you're gonna be able to use the knowledge to improve upon your performance next time? Nah..don't think so..tonight is the end." Then she grinned coldly at him. "But I am willing to humor your last request. Y ou were a moron, Asher...while you were in Xander's body...trying to convince us all that you were him...you kept identifying him in the third person. And then you spoke of being alive for a very long time." Then she narrowed her eyes, "But aside from all that...I know him...I know what he's capable of..and I know attempted murder and torture ain't it. You fucked up, asshole."

He laughed and then replied,"In the words of you moronic twits 'oops..my bad'. Alright, Slayer..you wanna end it? Right here, right now? Okay with me...let's get it on."

"Fine by me," Buffy shot back, eyes cold as ice. She dropped her arms away from Angel and moved towards Asher. Angel tried to grab her but she gave him a violent shove and pushed him away.

"Buffy, no!" Giles cried. What the hell did she think she was doing? As badly injured as she was, she didn't stand a chance against a demon in full control of an athletic and healthy body. She had to know that. And she probably did. And didn't care. Bitte rly, Giles realized that maybe his countless hours of lecturing her on persistance of duty had finally paid off.

Buffy ignored his warning and charged, spinning into a high kick that made her grit her teeth in pain as she spun in the air. Asher blocked high and then lashed out with a kick of his own, finding Cordelia's perfectly toned body to be an ideal fit.

Buffy slammed to the hard floor with a loud thud and a cry of agony. She tried to rise but the pain overwhelmed her and she crumbled. Angel cast a worried but irked look at her and then his facial features changed and he rushed Asher. He broke out with th ree straight brutal combinations and then finished with a 360 kick to the solar plexus. As Asher fell to the ground gasping, Angel leaned over him and growled, "You forgot one thing, Asher..even as limber as Cordelia is..even she has her limitations and n ow...you've reached yours."

Xander watched the action with wide eyes, still not understanding what was happening. He looked over at Buffy and his heart stopped."Oh God.." Shaking his head, he rushed to her and joined Giles and Willow as they tried to keep her consious. "Is she okay? "

"Yes," Giles replied tersely. "No thanks to her." He placed an arm under the Slayer's body and helped her into the sitting position.

She shot him a weary look and then muttered,"You needed my help."

Before he could reply, he saw movement out of the corner of his eyes. He turned his head so that he could watch the struggle between Angel and Asher. The vampire looked to be winning. As Giles looked on, he witnessed Angel slam the demon in Cordelia's bod y to the ground and then grab him by the hair and pull him upwards. And then Asher spoke. In Cordelia's voice.

"Xander..please..God..help me...what are you doing?"

Xander looked up from Buffy to the site of his girlfriends' watery and fearful eyes. She stared back at him with such pain that he felt his heart crumble. He tried to move towards her but Buffy grabbed his arm tightly and held on. "No!" Xander cried, tryi ng to brush her away. "What are you doing? She needs me!"

"That's not Cordy," Buffy hissed, the pain coloring her tone. "It's Asher..he's trying to manipulate us."

He looked at Buffy and saw the way she shook with each flash of pain and then he looked back over at Cordelia who was still looking at him desperately. "Xander..please..it's me...he's hurting me."

"Enough," Angel growled, slamming Asher hard against the floor. The demon grunted and then allowed the body to grow weak and slip into unconsiousness.

Xander felt Buffy's less than strong grip on his arm fall away. He looked down at her and then got up and crawled over to Cordelia. He knelt beside her and pulled her into his lap. "Would someone like to tell me once and for all what the hell is going on? "

Angel picked Buffy up into his arms and carried her to a chair. He set her down in it and knelt down on his knees to check her wound. Then he looked up at Giles, "This is pretty much your territory."

"Explanations..right." Giles murmured. He crossed over to his desk and pulled out a thick book from underneath. He set it on the table and then leafed through it. Finally he picked up the book and faced it towards the others.

"What is that?" Willow asked, turning her head. The others followed suit and they all gazed at a dark blue blurr on the page.

"That would be Asher. Biblically, he was Lucifer's right hand man when the dark angels fell. He was cast out of his body and became a 'body snatcher' of sorts. He survives by using the anger and hatred of mankind to transfer between bodies."

"So, it wasn't Xander.." Oz said.

"No..it was definately Asher. He's a rather ancient demon and he's quite adept at manipulation. He uses a body's memories to further harm the individual's close comrades. He is a proven murderer."

"You don't have to tell us that..he cut Buffy down like she was nothing," Oz murmured. He looked over at Xander hoping to see relief coloring the younger boys' face. What he saw however was still doubt and confusion.

"I remember," Buffy said quickly. She winced as she tried to move slightly away from Angel's painfully probing fingers. Finally with a grunt of annoyance, she pushed him away from her. "I'm fine."

"You were stupid," Giles shot at her, anger seeping into his voice. He turned and stared at her, shaking his head in irritation. "You could have gotten yourself killed pulling that idiotic stunt."

"Giles..I'm the Slayer," Buffy reminded him just as forcefully.

"You were almost a dead Slayer, Buffy. Dammit, you must learn to recognize your limitations." Giles retorted, taking off his glasses and kneading a hand through his hair.

"Giles...I really, really think you're over-reacting," Buffy growled.

"Okay, both of you..knock it off," Angel shouted, placing a hand on Buffy's arm. "Look...I've known of Asher for awhile. This is the first time I've actually faced him but I will say this..he feeds off of anger. It's how he transfers from one body to the next."

"Meaning he has his limitations," Jenny put in, placing a hand on Giles' back and rubbing it.

"Right," Angel nodded. "Even he must adhere to certain rules. Every demon has it's individual set but Asher is a rather infamous case." He looked down at Buffy to make sure that she had calmed down enough to listen. "He can only stay in a host body for 72 hours before he is expelled. He must exist within a human body. And the only way he can jump is if the receiver..that is the prospective new host must be enraged."

"Just angry?" Willow asked. "I mean..that seems like it would be easy for Asher to make someone angry...it seems almost like a gimme."

"No...not just angry...infuriated. Pure rage...nothing else...just focused hatred and blind fury. It's the simplest of emotions and yet the hardest to get a person to. That's why Asher pushes and prods until he finds the way to hurt the most."

"Wow...sinister," Buffy murmured."But how did he jump into Cordelia? She was unconsious by the time he jumped?"

"Well..that's the other thing..in order for Asher to jump..the new host must be unconsious. Human emotion changes so quickly..even unadulterated rage can be tempered in consiousness. So, to even up the score...in some backwards way..Asher can only jump if the host is out cold because then the subconsious takes over and maintains the rage."

"Okay..so we have the jump figured out. How do we fight him? Can't we just lock Cordelia in a room until the seventy-two hours is up? Won't that just kill him?" Buffy asked, pulling Angels' hand to her chest and holding it against her while at the same ti me keeping him from further inspecting her wound.

"No...he'll destroy Cordelia. If we put him in a position where he knows that he is going to die...he will kill her." Angel replied.

"He can't hurt her if he remains unconsious," Willow suggested.

"Were it that easy. Asher works on an extreme subconsious level. He can enter her mind and destroy her forever. Even if her body survives, she'd be cataonic. No..we need to find a different way and one that will destroy him once and for all." Giles said s oftly.

Angel narrowed his eyes,"I have an idea."




"Why can't I stay with her?" Xander asked again as he paced back and forth. He stopped in front of Buffy and shook his head. "None of this makes any sense."

"It's gotta be this way, Xand. It's the only way. Angel is already dead so that voids the rule about him having to be unconsious and in theory, his demon should be able to battle with Asher."

"In theory and what if Asher kills Angels' demon..what then?" Xander exclaimed. "I mean..we're all assuming that just because Angel's big bad nasty boy whooped Eyghon that he can clean Asher's clock too...but what if he doesn't?"

Buffy shook her head,"Well...I don't know what then." She touched his shoulder. "It'll work, Xand. Believe that."

"It's done," Jenny said, walking into the library with Willow and Giles.

"It is? Asher jumped?" Xander queried, hopeful.

Giles shook his head,"No...Jenny sealed the room."

"Asher won't be leaving there..one way or another. I placed a barrier..an old curse over the doorway to the basement. He can't go past it. He and Angel are trapped down there." Jenny told him.

"With Cordelia," Xander whispered. Then he looked up at them, "Now what?"

"We wait," Buffy murmured. She tried to adjust in the chair and winced in pain.

Giles saw her reaction and frowned. He immediately scolded himself for allowing her to remain as long as he had. "We need to get you back to the hospital. They're probably frantic by now."

"Oh right," she replied. "I kinda left without checking out..mom's not gonna be happy with her little Slayer."

"I imagine not." Giles replied.

Buffy sighed and started to stand but quickly discovered that she lacked the strength. She fell back down in the chair and looked over to Xander. Her eyes misted as she watched her friend stare at the ground. Even though he knew he wasn't responsible for what he'd done...it was obvious that he was still carrying guilt. "Hey Xand..will you take me back?"

He looked up in surprise and caught the soft compassionate look in her eyes. Nodding slowly, he replied, "Sure..not like I'm any good around here. Not like that's different than usual."

He stood up and grabbed his jacket. Pulling it on quickly, he moved around to Buffy. He slipped an arm under her and pulled her up. She grunted in pain and closed her eyes tightly until it subsided. He whispered an apology but she waved him off and huddle d closer to him to show her support.

Giles strode over to them, "Buffy..I uh..wanted to apologize for losing my temper with you. I was concerned."

"No worries, Giles. I'm sorry too." Buffy replied.

"Good..um..well..promise me that you'll stay there the rest of the night. No more rescue missions?"

"Sure..no more Slayer Commando for me." Buffy said with a grin.

"Excellent." He reached into his pocket. "Xander, why don't you take my car?"

Jenny grabbed his arm before he could give Xander the keys. Smiling like a fool she said,"Let's get her to the hospital before the millenium, Rupert. Xander..you can take my car."



They drove in silence, each focused on their own thoughts. He glanced over at her a couple times, the pain lines creasing her face causing his guilt to mount. He saw her clutch the seat as a fresh wave of agony overtook her. She grou nd her teeth together and choked back a whimper.

He shook his head and looked away from her. He couldn't do it. He couldn't look at the pain he'd caused. It was impossible and simply too much to ask.

"Xander..stop the car," Buffy whispered, hand across her stomach.

"Why?" he stammered. "I mean..you're hurt. We should get you back to the hospital so maybe they can give you painkillers or something..."

"Plenty of time for that," Buffy replied with a sardonic grin. Then she sighed. "This isn't about me..it's about you. And we need to talk so stop the damn car."

Knowing better to argue with a Slayer in pain, he simply nodded and pulled the car over. It was well after ten at night so the streets of Sunnydale were deserted. Turning to her, he murmured, "Okay..now what?"

"Get out. I want to show you something." Buffy said, moving her hand down her stomach so that it was directly over her wound.

"Sure..oh hey! Stay there..I'll come around and open the door for you," Xander insisted as he got out of the driver's seat. He ran around to the passenger side and helped Buffy out, wrapping an arm around her slim waist.

"Over here," she instructed, leading him over to the hood of the car. She pushed herself up onto it and then patted the spot next to her. "You're hurting."

"I'm fine," Xander replied, taking the seat. "Just confused. And angry. God Buff...what did I do to you?"

"Xander, haven't you been listening? It wasn't you.."

"It was me! It was! It was my body..my hands...my thoughts...God...my words." Xander whispered, unable to look at her.

She touched his face and turned him to look at her. "You can't believe that."

"I can't not. I mean...look at what I've done. I stabbed you. My hands had your blood dripping all over them. And I laughed at it. You can't tell me that that doesn't wig you.."

"Oh it does," Buffy confirmed.

"See.."

"But not the way you're thinking, Xand. Look at me," she smiled up at him. "I'm scared because someone used you to hurt us. Someone..this Asher asshole hurt us by hurting you. That's what wigs me."

"I nearly killed you. You're in pain because of something I did. Responsible or otherwise..I did it to you."

"Dammit, no!" Buffy errupted. Then she winced. He looked at her with fear and concern in his eyes. As he shakily reached out to touch her, she caught his hand in hers "Just shut up and listen to me. For once..just listen."

"Okay," he mumbled, allowing her to guide his hand to her stomach.

She slipped his hand under the front of her tee-shirt and brought it to the bandaged area on her stomach. "Your hands did this." Then she pressed her sprained hand against his chest. "But you didn't. Xander could never hurt me. You could never hurt me. I trust you with my life. I always will."

"Buffy.."

"Asher tried to kill me. He tried to kill us all. But he didn't succed." She took his hand out from under her shirt and then leaned forward and curled against his chest. "I'm alive. We're all alive and we're going to get Cordelia back."

He couldn't respond to that. He just laid back against the hood of the car and held her against him, watching the rise and fall of her chest. It was when he adjusted his grip to make her more comfortable that he felt something that alarmed him. Eyes widen ing in surprise, he reached across and touched her stomach again. He felt her wince at the touch but when he brought his hand away, all he saw was red. "Oh my..Buffy..you're bleeding," Xander breathed in disbelief as he stared at his fingers.

She looked down at her obscenely white shirt and saw a small but growing spot of red on it. "Wow. You're right. Maybe Giles is right...I guess getting out of bed tonight was a bad..a bad..a bad something." She tried to jump off of the hood but ended up ne arly falling over instead.

"Yeah..I'm thinking so," Xander replied, grabbing her before she pitched over. "Okay..end of the heart to heart. You my little Slayer..are going back to bed...ASAP."

"Okay," she murmured, suddenly drowsy. "No arguments here." Then she reached out and grabbed his arm, using every bit of strength she could muster. "But you gotta promise me something."

"What's that?" Xander asked, nearly carrying her to the car. He opened the door and very gently put her in. He strapped her in and then ran around to the other side and got in. He started the engine and then looked over at her so that she could continue.< P> "You won't blame yourself for this. Not anymore. Enough damage has been done. You wanna hold someone responsible...then fine...blame Asher. Don't let him kick your ass with guilt. Kick his." She said, falling back against the seat.

Xander nodded slowly," You stay horizontal and you get well enough to kick some vamp ass again and Buffy my little buddy..you got yourself a deal."




Angel watched her sleep. A vessel. The beautiful young form of a girl who had no idea that her body was being used as one of the playing pieces in one of the greatest battles of all. How could she know? Better off that she was unawar e.

"Does it amuse you to watch me, Angelus?"

Angel blinked and stared back at Cordelia. Only he knew instantly that it wasn't her. Asher watched him out of her eyes and with hatred reflected in his own soul.

"We're gonna end this now,"Angel told him solemnly.

Asher laughed,"Alright then. Let's get to it. I hate to be late to funerals. You always miss all the good stuff."




"How did it go?" Giles asked, looking up from a a newspaper. He watched as Xander trudged wearily across the library and fell into one of the chairs at the table. Willow put her hand over his and gave him a smile.

"Alright, I guess. She started bleeding again but I think she'll be okay. The docs wheeled her away pretty quick. I told them that I found her wandering around delirious but I think she's gonna be in some trouble anyways."

"Great," Giles muttered. "That child..."

Xander sighed and then looked back over at Willow and Oz. As he and Will locked eyes, he thought he saw something lurking in the shadows. Fear. Oh God. Xander quickly broke away from her and stood up. He asscended the steps to the stacks and disappeared i nto them.

Giles made to go after him but Willow shook her head. "I'll do it." She smiled at Oz and then went after Xander. "Hey," she called out, finding him in the demons without heads section.

"Will...I'm sorry." Xander said, looking down. "I promised Buffy I wouldn't but I can't not..."

"Yes, you can. Look at me." Willow said, flashing him the smile he'd grown up with. The one that showed only love and absoloute trust. "You have nothing to be sorry for. You didn't do anything wrong."

"Then why are you still scared of me?"

"I'm not, Xander. I'm not." She took his hand and squeezed it. "Come on." Still holding his hand, she led him out of the stacks and back down to the others. He flashed them an apologetic smile.

"Alright, people," Jenny murmured. "I guess we'd all better relax. It's gonna be a very long night."




"Let's start easy, Angelus." Asher said softly, still using Cordelia's voice. "Let's start with your past and how many people you've killed."

"You'll have to do better than that," Angel replied.

"Oh but why? Don't tell me you've actually made peace with yourself over the fact that you've butchered and murdered hundreds. That's pretty sick, Angelus." Asher taunted.

"I've made the peace I need to." Angel retorted.

"Alright..alright..if you think you can forgive away all that brutality..then why don't we talk about more recent events...like the second time you went bad. Like the first time you really had Buffy by the throat and all you wanted to do was rip it out." Asher laughed. "Yeah, yeah..let's talk about the little bitch. Sounds like a good time to me."




"Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes. Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes.."

"Willow.." both Giles and Xander grumbled.

She looked up, eyes wide with innocence. "What?" Behind her, Oz laughed at the dirty looks the two other males were throwing the small hacker. Just as he was about to speak up to tell her that it was fine by him if she sang, the phone rang. Willow jumped up from her seat, eager to do something, and charged it.

Xander glanced at his watch and grinned,"Three in the morning...wonder who that could be."

"Someone who should bloody well be sleeping," Giles muttered.

Willow threw him a look and then picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Heya, Will." The Slayer replied, sounding very tired but also very unable to sleep.

"Hi, Buffy. How are you doing? And what are you doing? And why are you up so late..or is it early?"

"Either, or." Buffy replied with a laugh. "As for the other questions..I'm fine and not really in a lot of pain at the moment. Good damn drugs." Willow couldn't help but laugh.

"And the doctors?"

"Not very happy with me. I don't think anyone is completely buying Xander's sleepwalking delirium story. I think I'm gonna be in trouble with my mom for this one and now I got an armed nurse at the door."

"Armed?"

"Ya..with tranks. Which reminds me..they just gave me enough to knock out King Kong so if I suddenly go all funky crazy...something or other...like that..just stay..stay with me."

"Gotcha, Buffy." Willow grinned. Now that at least one of her friends was safe, she could allow herself a little bit of humor.

"So...how are things here..I mean there?" Buffy asked, beginning to sound disoriented.

"Slow and full of tension." Willow replied.

"And how's our Xander shaped...person.."

Willow turned around and smiled at Xander who had conveniently knelt behind the desk to find a deck of cards. Lowering her voice substantially, she whispered," I don't think he's well at all. He's hurting pretty bad, Buffy..and I don't know what to do."

"Reassure keep him." There was a pause and then said, "That is...keep reassuring him. It'll take awhile to get rid of the guilt but he will get through this. We all will. We always...do..yeah..those are the right words." She sighed and muttered something unintelligible and then said,"So..is Giles..optimism..optimistic?"

"Yeah..he believes it'll work. We're gonna wait until thirty minutes before sun-up to check the score. Angel knows the time-table...they both do."

"Yeah," Buffy replied. There was a long pause and then she again muttered something incoherent.

"Buffy," Willow laughed. "It's time for you to allow the happy pills to work. Get some sleep."

"Uh huh. Okay." Buffy murmured drowsily. "You know what, Will..I think it's time I let the drugs work. I'm gonna get some sleep."

"Great idea...wish I'd thought of it. Night."

"Night, Will. I'm surprised you didn't think of that," Buffy drawled as she put the phone down.

Once the line went dead, Willow turned to stare at the others. "She really needs mental help, Giles."




"So what do you want to talk about, Angelus? I'll give you your pick. We'll keep it sportmanslike. We'll play the game like old friends."

"We're not friends," Angel growled.

"You want me to pick the topic?" Asher asked, lifting an eyebrow. He shrugged. "Okay..well..hm..I'm kinda stuck between sex and death. You know what though..we got plenty of time for both so let's start with..death. Yeah..it's one of my favorite categorie s."

"You better study up..you're about to get first hand experience," Angel retorted.

"Ooh..harsh. No fair..not a question. My turn." Asher laughed. "Okay, tell me...how does it feel to take a life? Is is a thrill...to feel your victims blood against your flesh. To watch them shudder.."

"I won't play your games," Angel replied.

"How did it feel to almost kill Cordelia? I mean..of course I'm glad you didn't..that'll be my fun but how was it?" Asher smiled up at him.

Angel's eyes narrowed."I don't remember."

"Of course you do. I do. She does. They all do, Angelus. Remember..you'd almost choked your beloved Buffy..and we'll talk about that later..but someone stabbed you with Cordelia's hair clip so you took her out and you bit her. You tried to take her life. And you almost suceeded until that Slayer bitch stabbed you. Again..back to that later. I want to know what it feels like to take the life of a person who can't defend themself?"

"You should know," Angel whispered, agony in his tone. The events of months earlier were still fresh in his mind.

"This isn't about me, Angel. I love killing. I love their screams..as if they think that I can be swayed to feel pity or compassion. I mean...come on." Asher sighed. "And once..once you were like me..now all you are is a weak little puppy dog. What did Xa nder call you? Oh yeah...whooped little dead boy. Do you have any idea how much that boy hates you?"

"I'm not like you...and you're gonna hafta do better than that."

Asher squinted his eyes,"Here's the game, vamp boy..I have the control here..you gotta make me switch bodies and I know I have to but you're not playing fair. So understand this, I have control of Cordelia's mind...if you don't start playing along...I wil l destroy it. Believe me...I won't hesitate to take her apart piece by piece. And I'll make it hell for her. I'll make her run for the darkest depths of her mind to get away from the torments I'll bring to her. So here we are...will you play?"

"Yes," Angel hissed, unwilling to risk hurting Cordelia. Pride was important but none of this was worth it if he allowed Cordelia's mind to be destroyed.

Asher grinned,"Excellent. I knew you were still a sport, lad. You know, you have quite a reputation. Or at least you used to. You were one mean fucker..someone I'd gladly call brother. Now you're just a coward screwing a little girl."

Angel growled," If you want to play your twisted little game of 20 questions, then do it but leave..."

"You're not about to say 'leave the Slayer out of it' now are you?" Asher asked. He made a face and then shook his head in mock disappointment. "No can do..I mean...what's the fun in that?"

"Let's just get this over," Angel replied, pacing the small basement. He looked over at Asher.

"Okay. Okay. Back to the other question then. When you had Cordelia in your arms, with your teeth in her throat..what were you thinking?"

"That I wanted to kill her," Angel replied in a low voice.

"Why?"

"I had my reasons."

"And I have my ways to make every moment of the destruction of her mind pure hell. Now answer that damn question." Asher growled.

"I wanted to see Buffy cry. I wanted to destroy her. And I knew that if Buffy allowed me to kill Cordelia...Xander could never forgive her. Never."

"Very true. It's still there," Asher murmured. Then he looked up. "The stupid boy feels shame over the anger he felt towards Buffy for putting Cordelia in danger. Of course then he became a coward and let that beautiful anger go. Moron. What I helped him to do was the best thing he's ever done."

"I wanted to tear them apart," Angel finished.

"But you wanted more, right? You whispered something to Cordelia...I don't think any of the others heard. Do you remember what that was?"

Angel nodded slowly,"I told her that I would make her like me so that she could get her revenge on Buffy herself. I knew that it would hurt Buffy even more if she had to kill one of her friends."

"That's right. And that feeling of passionate fury..total hatred towards the Slayer..it set you free..didn't it?"

"Yeah," Angel replied. "I felt like I could do anything.."

"So why don't you allow yourself to do that now?" Asher cried. "Imagine what you could do...still play the Slayers' fiddle but do the Angelus bit also."

"No," Angel growled, eyes narrowing into slits.

"Oh, why not? Wouldn't want to betray her? Open your eyes you idiot..she killed you."

"I'm already dead," he retorted.

"Technicality," Asher replied with a wave of his hand. He sighed impatiently. "She chose the life of someone she's only kinda friends with over her 'true love'..that's gotta kinda burn you, man."

"She made the right decision," Angel replied.

"Just like when she decided that you two should get..oh hey that's a great phrase host o' mine...horizontal." Asher laughed. "You know that's the fun of taking over teens...they give you just the coolest lingo." He sighed. "In any case..back to the good s tuff..the carnal stuff..."

"We made love," Angel said evenly.

"Right. Yeah. Sure, Casanova. You know, both Xander and Cordy think you two just got horny and messed a lot of stuff up."

"It wasn't like that," Angel protested. "It's not like that."

"See, I wouldn't know...not with the Slayer anyhows. All I got to do was almost kill her. Now that was fun. Maybe when this fun evening is over, I can find a way to get into her hospital room and complete the job. Or maybe I'll possess her for a little wh ile..get the intimate details."

"You'll never get the chance," Angel shot back.

"Ooh..awful cocky. Well hey, wait a minute...that's the point." Asher laughed. He shook his head and made a motion to dry tears away from his eyes. Then he narrowed his eyes."But you liked it, didn't you? The sex. You were her first.."

"Go to hell."

"Her mind, Angelus..her mind. Don't start holding back on me just because I wanna know the good stuff. I've kinda got a short temper about right now. I mean come on...your slut of a girlfriend tried to take me on...gotta tell you, bro...it was fun watchin g her hit the ground. Her cries...talk about sweet music. Ah well...I'll get to hear them again soon enough."

"I'll kill you."

"You've been around these idiot humans too long, Angelus. Come on...don't say things you can't back up." He leaned towards him. "So, what I want to know is how much pleasure you got out of hearing her scream in pain when you broke her in? Did you like it? " He frowned. "You know...this kinda sucks...I should have taken over Willow...I bet she has better details...this body has a whole section of her memory devoted to how little she gets told. She's actually jealous that Buffy doesn't confide in her more. S tupid girl...you know...of all of them..Cordelia has the most potential to snap but she won't because she has mushy feelings towards Xander. Yuck, man..seriously." Then he looked back up at Angel. "So answer the question..didn't you get a kick out of bein g her first...the wrangler who broke the stallion."

"Stallions are male," Angel replied dryly.

"Answer the question or I'll end this game right now." Asher hissed.

"Yes, I enjoyed it." Angel replied shortly.

"How delicate. C'mon Angelus.. gimme details.." Asher grinned. "I mean c'mon...she looks like fun. You know...come to think of it..this body I'm in looks like fun too.."

"Your game, Asher..we haven't much more time.." Angel reminded him.

"Oh right..too bad. Okay, back to the Slayer then." Asher said with a sigh. Then he grinned,"Was she a good fuck?"

Angel closed his eyes,"Yeah...she was."

"Details, brother of mine..did she scream?"

"No," Angel replied tersely.

"Did it hurt her? You gotta know that...I mean she's so small.."

"Yes. Are we done with this?"

"We're done when I say we are. But you're right in a way..this is getting us nowhere..you're just being a nostalgic little mush. Aw..what a sweet fuck. Come on, Angelus...admit it..you felt power in that you got to the almighty Slayer first. But that's no t all..you felt power because in those moments...you could have killed the little bitch and she couldn't have stopped you."

"Yes," Angel admitted.

"Did you want to? Was there even a moment there when you thought to yourself..I could end it right here? Make her mine forever?"

"Yes," he replied again, voice strung with tension.

"You should have." Asher said simply. "But now all you've got is a little tramp that you can lay for a few more years until someone is lucky enough to kill her." He leaned forward. "Someone like me."

"She's still alive. She beat you."

"For now. But do you know what it was like to have her blood gush down my hands when I turned the knife in her stomach. Or to hear her moan in agony when I hit her. Ecstacy, brother. Pure."

"I'm not like that anymore..I love her. I would never hurt her."

"But you did. You hurt them all. You tried to kill all of them. When you died..both Xander and Cordelia felt relief...you made it all worse again..and you made them lose respect for Buffy."

Angel looked up in shock, "What?"

"Oh..didn't know that, didja?" Asher said, shaking his head in mock disappointment. "Well, yeah...when Buffy rushed back to your arms..they thought she was pretty much just a tramp...I mean come on..talk about lack of loyalty. You wanna know a secret, Ang elus? Cordelia wanted to whoop Buffy's ass...wanted to get even for a few months ago when the oh so distraught Slayer kissed Xander. Aw..so when I took your little slut girlfriend out upstairs...it wasn't me..it was Cordelia..and it's your fault."< BR>




"Check-mate," Willow muttered, knocking over Xander's king with her pawn. She sighed and fell back against the seat. "For the tenth time."

Xander was about to reply when the phone came roaring to life. He blinked and glanced at it for a few moments before jumping to his feet. Only to be beat by Willow who hadn't needed to identify what was ringing.

Without preamble she said into the receiver,"Buffy, it's almost four in the morning..why aren't you asleep?"

"Technically...I think they call this sleeping. Took me twenty minutes to dial the number..I can't feel my ear." Buffy slurred back.

"Those are the painkillers, Buffy. They work better if you don't fight them," Willow admonished gently.

"Yeah..you're..probably right...you know I can't think...very well...this is kinda hurting..um..what was I saying?"

"Not a clue..I'm guessing you want to know if there's anything new...which there isn't."

"Oh...I remember now," Buffy rambled on. "Anything new happening?"

"No," Willow said with a laugh. She was about to tell her friend to go back to sleep when she heard Buffy moan and then make a sound that vaguely resembled the stiffling back of a pained cry. "Buffy?"

"No..worries..Will...I just.." Buffy cut off again, coughing harshly. Then there was a brief silence followed by a few softly murmured words from a second person in the room. After another pause, someone picked up the phone.

"Willow?" A strong female voice said over the line. Uh oh.

"Mrs. Summers?" Willow asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"Yes, hi Willow." Joyce Summers replied. "Sorry about this. I know you're probably sound asleep in bed. Buffy had a little adventure tonight so she kind of re-injured herself."

"Is she alright?" Willow asked, with real concern. It wouldn't surprise her at all if Buffy had downplayed her injuries.

"She pulled open some of the stiching but she'll be fine if she'll just lay down and get some sleep. I guess the sedatives and painkillers they gave her weren't strong enough. But she's sleeping now."

"That's good to hear," Willow replied.

"Yes, it is. Doctor Clark just gave her a new dosage..it should keep her out for a few hours but her little stunt tonight is going to keep her hospital bound for a few more days."

"Ouch."

"Right." Joyce replied. Then she sighed. "Alright, I'm gonna let you get back to bed, Willow. I'm sorry about you getting woken up."

"No problem. I'm used to it. Tell Buffy..when she wakes up..that we'll all stop by tommorow."

"Will do. Goodnight, Willow."

"Goodnight." Willow sighed and hung up the phone. She looked over at Giles. "Buffy is asleep."




"Sex is a powerful thing, Angel. Nations have been built and destroyed over the power of a man and a woman uniting." Asher said as he stood up and began to walk in circles. "Your night of passion with the Slayer did that much and mor e. How many people fell because of you? How many lives did you destroy? All because of one little tramp?"

"I don't regret making love to her," Angel hissed. "I never will. I regret the sins of my past but I will never look back on my love for Buffy with any bad feelings."

"Except for the fact that even after saying she loved you..she tried to pick up on Xander. You remember that...you told Xander afterwards that you saw it. And you didn't like it."

"I felt jealousy.."

"Because she's a tramp. Yeah..your sweet precious no-longer virginal Buffy is nothing but a slut. I mean come on, man...it was only weeks after you rock and rolled with her that she was picking up on Xander..trying to get with him.."

"That's not true.."

"That's sure what Cordelia thinks. And if I recall...Xander thought she was using him too." Asher said, shaking his head as if he couldn't believe what he was saying. "Great girl you have there."

"She was hurting and confused," Angel replied, teeth ground together.

"Alright..then how did you explain the affair she had in Los Angeles during last summer? Oh wait..I bet she never told you about that. Nope..I imagine not. She told Willow and Cordelia...one of the only things she's ever told Cordy..."

"You're lying..."

"Oops...no I'm not. Well..if it makes you feel better..she didn't have sex with the boy but she did go pretty far...yeah...your sweet loyal Buffy was playing around with her old boy-toy."

"I don't believe you.."

"Hmm..now..Cordy here has a memory of Buffy saying that she'd moved on to the living during the summer. Now..what do you think that means?"

"She was in a lot of pain...things didn't end well between us."

"They never will. You haven't a prayer of it. I mean, what was just a good fuck at the moment will very soon give way to the fact that she's nothing but a tramp who will use you and then destroy you. And if that's not enough...she's going to lead all of t he rest of them to their deaths. But you..you..can stop her."

"What?"

"That's right...you can squeeze the life from her body...drink her blood...gain enormous power and yet prevent all these losers from dying because they they won't be part of the Slayer game."

"You're insane."

"And I grow weary. Time to take the kid gloves off. I know you almost killed Buffy...I know you placed your hands around her throat and listened as her heart slowed. And in those moments...you wanted that bitch dead and a part of you still does."

"No!" Angel yelled, leaping to his feet. He took two steps towards Asher, hands out-stretched and then he stopped. "I will never hurt her."

"Why do you fight your nature? You are a sick bastard..more than me. I know my destiny...I know my purpose. I accept my power and the gifts it gives to me. I enjoy it."

"I'm not you."

"Yes, Angelus, you are me. You feel the thrill of death when you kill. You know the raw lust involved in sex..and taking what is not given to you. And you know that if you could kill her...even for a second..the raw energy and passion would overwelm you. And that may scare you but it is your nature. You are a murderer. Deny it if you will but you are here to take lives and to enjoy it and one day..you will take hers."

"No..."

"She will fall under your hand and as she dies..as your name leaves her lips..you will know nothing more than the feel of pure ecstasy."

"No!" Angel growled. His eyes glowed dark yellow as his face shifted.

"If you don't have the balls to be who you are..then I will and believe me..I'll make her hurt..even as I take her.."

Angel felt himself fall away from his humanity as the anger took hold. His body went airborne and he slammed Asher to the ground, forgetting completely about the host body. Wrapping his hands around Asher's throat, he bared his fangs.

Asher laughed and then closed Cordelia's eyes and allowed himself to slide away. He felt his coporial body sliding. The fight was about to begin.




At just after four in the morning, she began to tremble as if she were having a convulsion. Joyce Summers ripped upwards from the seat next to her daughters' bed and called out for a nurse.

"Something's wrong," Joyce breathed. She pointed dramatically towards Buffy's bed where the girl continued to spasm wildly.

The nurse nodded sharply and then turned to another and barked out a series of orders. She turned to Joyce,"It'll be alright..."




The darkness consumed her. She felt the walls slide against her, pressing her body together and cutting off the oxygen. She struggled desperately for air but relief refused to come to her.

"Help me," a voice called out to her. Cordelia.

"No..." Buffy begged, tears streaming down her face. She started to shake her head. "No..please.."

"I'm dying," Cordelia cried again.

"Fight it," a second voice yelled. "Don't give in." God..that had to be Angel.

"Your time has come, Buffy." Xander charged, stepping out of the darkness. He strode towards Buffy and grabbed her by the collar of her shirt. Lifting her into the air, he threw her. When she looked up again, it wasn't Xander.

"I killed you," Buffy whispered, staring at the Master.

"You thought you killed me also," Angelus growled, stepping beside the Master.

"No.." Buffy cried, trying to back away from him.

"You can't fight destiny, Slayer." The Master growled, reaching for her. She tried to crawl away from him but only ended up smashing up against a wall. He wrapped his hands around her throat and hoisted her into the air. "You are a killer like us all. Eit her accept your fate or die like the coward you appear to be."

Buffy continued to shake, unable to speak or even fight as the air rushed out of her lungs.

"Buffy..please.."

She turned her head ever-so-slightly and gazed over at the form of her vampiric lover lying on the ground. He stared up at her with agony in her eyes. "It grows dark. The fight rages on but we both fall."

Drawing upon every bit of strength she had left in her body, she screamed out his name. And then the grip on her throat relaxed and she felt herself falling.

"Do you love me?"came the whisper in the air.

She lifted her head, tears in her eyes and replied,"Always." And then her strength gave out and she collapsed.




He fell to the ground and clutched at his chest. The battle had been fierce and his injuries would take a few days to mend but it was finally over. The winner and the loser were no longer one.




And then she stopped. The tremors ended and her body fell silent. She gasped out for air but her eyes remained shut. A nurse leaned forward and wiped a line of sweat away from her brow. "Whatever that was..it's over now."




"Shouldn't we like...bring stakes?" Willow squeaked as she took the flashlight from Giles.

"It won't matter. If Asher is alive..we'll know instantly." Jenny told her. She picked up a cross and a small vile of holy water.

"Let's get going then," Xander whispered, leading them down the steps to the basement. "Cordelia is down there and she needs our help one way or another."

Oz rested a hand on his friends' shoulder,"She'll get it, bro."

Xander nodded. He didn't bother adding that the only thing that could comfort him would be seeing Cordelia alive and breathing. Closing his eyes gently, he stepped up to the door of the basement and gently pressed it open. "Cordy?" he asked, voice shaking with emotion.

When he heard nothing, he started to move into the room but a hand caught his wrist. He looked up at Giles. "No, let Jenny perform the spell. We must know if it is Angel who leaves."

"Fine. Hurry..her life could be in danger.." Xander growled.

"Right," Jenny whispered, setting down the cross. "Everyone give me your hand. We need to form a link."




Her eyes opened to a blinding light and she instinctively shrank away from it, whimpering in protest. "Cordelia?" a voice said from above her.

"No..." she said, turning away from it.

"Open your eyes, Cordy." Xander whispered, touching her cheek gently.

She blinked and allowed the burn of a flashlight to pierce her mind."Turn it off, " she grunted, reaching out to push it away.

Jenny dropped the light and offered Cordelia a hand. "Sit still, okay? You've got some cuts and bruises I want to clean up."

"I'm sorry," Angel whispered, looking away.

Xander stood up from where he was crouched next to Cordelia. "You have nothing to be sorry for. This is my fault. I started all this.."

Angel spun so quickly that he almost toppled. His eyes staring dagger, he growled at Xander. "Outside, now."

Xander blinked and was about to reply but commom sense stepped in and he nodded. Glancing back at Cordelia, he sighed and then turned to follow Angel.

Once outside in the cool morning air, Angel reached over and grabbed Xander. Pulling him up by the lapels, he smashed Xander against a wall. "Dammit, get a grip on yourself."

"Wha?" Xander squeaked, wide-eyed.

"This wasn't your fault. This was no one's fault. Asher manipulated you..God..he got all of us. You've got to stop blaming yourself. Enough is enough. There are other people hurting here."

"Okay," Xander whispered. "Okay."

"Good," Angel replied, setting the boy down. Then he let out a breath of exhaustion. "The sun will be up in fifteen minutes so I better get moving. You take care of Cordelia..she and Buffy need your strength. Tell Buffy I'll stop by tonight."

"Sure," Xander replied.

"Okay. Oh hey, Xander?"

"Yeah?"

"You're a good man. Don't forget that. Buffy..Willow..Cordelia..they have a good friend in you." And with that, Angel turned and walked away.

Nodding slowly, Xander fell to his butt next to the wall and placed his head in his hands. He felt his eyes watering and then he just let go and began to shake as the emotions overwhelmed him.




"Hi, Mrs. Summers? It's Willow...I just wanted to call and make sure Buffy is okay."

"Hi, Willow. Um, well...Buffy had a pretty rough night. She's still rather feverish..I'm sure she's fine though.."

"Okay..um..would it be alright if we came by?" Willow queried.

"Sure..I think that would be fine."




"Cordelia!" Xander called out. He'd watched her exit the school staring at the ground and for a moment he'd considered letting her go but he couldn't..he just couldn't..

She turned slowly and gazed back at him through weary eyes, "What?"

"Can we talk?"

"Yes. But not now."

"Don't you want to know what happened?" Xander asked.

She laughed bitterly. "You know, I probably do..but not right now. I have a feeling that whatever the truth is..I can't handle it." She swallowed hard and opened her mouth to say something else. And then closing her eyes, she whispered. "Please, just give me time."

He reached forward and touched her face. Almost immediately, he felt her stiffen. Cringing slightly, he pulled his hand away. "All the time you need. All you need but you know what..I'll still be here. I won't let it end like this."

She nodded and then smiled at him, tears glinting in her eyes,"Thank you."




She finally found him standing by his lccker before Biology class. Striding up to him, she placed a hand on his arm. "Hey, Xander."

"Will," he murmured, still staring at his lockers' contents as if they might give him the answers to life. He'd been in the same lethargic state since the Monday night the week previous.

"Um, Buffy wanted me to remind you that we're doing the group movie thing tommorow night at her place to celebrate her release from the hospital." Willow chirped, reaching into his locker and pulling out his Bio book.

"Right. You know..maybe I.."

"Don't even say it..I already went through this with Cordelia..it took me over an hour to make her see reason. God..you guys can't avoid each other for ever. This is stupid...you're not even angry at each other."

"No," he said shaking his head. "Not angry."

"You guys are scared but you have to face this sooner or later..." Willow said softly. "You need to."

"I know."

"So you'll be there, right?"

"Will.."

"Xander..if you're not...Buffy will hurt you. You know pain..bad. She just got out of the hospital after almost two weeks.."

"That's because she kept trying to escape and kept reopening the wound," Xander muttered, shaking his head.

"True enough but now she wants to party," Willow chirped. "And I have specific orders to get you there any way I can."

He sighed, "Alright. I know better than to go against a testy Slayer. I'm there."

"Good," Willow grinned. "It'll be fun. And remember..Buffy is still laid up..in bed..only she'll be on the couch...so we can harass her without worrying about her taking us out."

Xander laughed and this time it reached his eyes,"Sounds like a plan, little buddy."




"Just where the hell do you think you're going?" Willow asked as she stepped over Oz's legs and sat down next to him. She glared up at Buffy who was trying to sit up but failing miserably. The little Slayer was curled up next to Ange l with a blanket over her body and her head on his chest. Angel for his part, simply watched her struggles with amusement.

Looking rather pathetic, Buffy lifted up a glass and whimpered, "Is empty. Need refill. Soda in kitchen."

Sitting on the couch next to Buffy and Angel, Cordelia rolled her eyes and grinned. She couldn't help it. It wasn't every day that she got to see the Slayer too weak to take out someone if they insulted her. It was open season and people were having a fie ld-day. And of course, Angel wasn't defending her. He'd actually joined in a couple of times.

"I'll get it. I need one myself," Cordelia replied, standing up. She took the glass from Buffy's hand and shook her head. "If you didn't look so pathetic, you'd actually look normal."

Buffy grinned sardonically and tilted her head,"Oh Cordy..always good to know you care."

"Only enough to send the very best," Cordelia shot back as she walked towards the kitchen. Still laughing, she pushed the door open and stepped in. She walked around to the fridge and opened it.

"Hey," Xander murmured from the doorway to the back yard.

She jumped at the sound of his voice and almost dropped the bottle of Dr.Pepper. "Xander," she stammered.

"Yeah..hey..I'm sorry."

"No..I'm sorry..no..."

"It's okay."

"Right. So,haven't seen you around much this last week." Cordelia murmured.

"Yeah..I've been busy."

"Right. Um, how did you do on Keller's test?"

"Okay..I think."

"Yeah..me too..I think.."

"Cordelia.."

"Maybe an A or a B.." There was a ding noise in the other room. The bell from the front door. "Pizza is here."

"Right, yeah..Cordelia, this has got to stop." Xander exclaimed.

She looked up at him, "Yeah..I guess so." Unable to meet his eyes just yet, she stared down at his hands and to her shock, she saw that in them, he held the necklace he'd given her two weeks earlier. The same one that Asher had used to hurt him.

"I gotta know..can you look at me without hating me? Do we even stand a chance?"

"I have dreams, Xander."

"I know..so do I. They scare me." He reached forward and placed a finger under her chin. Lifting it up so that their eyes locked, he whispered. "I don't want to walk away unless you want me to."

There was a moment of silence and then he nodded.

"Okay." Shaking his head, he stepped away from her and walked through the door back into the living room. Cordelia stared at the ground for a moment and then crossed back over to the fridge and finished refilling the drinks. She watched the carbonation fi zzle for a few moments and then she turned and followed Xander into the living room.

She walked through the doors and locked her sites on the Slayer and her undead boyfriend who were very visibly having a PDA moment. She rolled her eyes in amusement and then stepped over to them. "Smoochies later..like..when I can't see them."

Buffy blushed and pushed her face against Angels's chest. Then she pushed herself up and took the glass from Cordelia. "Thanks, Cordy."

"Don't get used to it, Slayer..I'm just being nice."

"Must be killing you. Sit down, take a load off," Buffy quipped.

"Funny." Cordelia replied. Then she sombered up as she saw Xander sittinng on the floor by the end of the couch. He was holding a video case from Blockbuster in his hands. She looked back up at Buffy and the Slayer nodded her towards him.

Cordelia smiled slightly and then moved over to him. Sitting down, she placed a hand on his arm. He looked up at her in confusion and then watched as she moved her hand down to his and opened it up. Catching his eyes, she removed the necklace from his pal m and put it around her neck. In a low voice she whispered, "Does that answer your question?"

He grinned and replied in the same low tone,"Can I make everyone leave the room?"

She punched him in the arm and then curled against him. He smiled and looked up at Buffy who was grinning at him like a hyena on uppers. She winked at him and then fell back against Angel.

"Okay, who has the movie?" Oz asked as he walked into the room carrying a pizza.

"I do," Xander chirped, throwing Oz the box.

"Cool." Oz said, staring at the box. "Denzel Washington."

"What's the movie?" Buffy asked, reaching back to knead Angel's chest in order to make it more comfortable. He lowered his head and watched her with an amused look. The girl was crazy.

"Fallen." Oz murmured, sliding the tape into the VCR.

Willow lifted an eyebrow. "Oh good."

FIN